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Day-care operator charged with murder

By Christine McConville and Jared Stearns, Globe Staff and Globe Correspondent, 8/2/2003

WOBURN -- A woman who repeatedly defied state orders to close her business was charged yesterday with shaking a 3-month-old to death in what appears to be the first murder charge ever brought against a Massachusetts day-care operator.

With her husband and family members sitting behind her, Ann Power, 54, of Reading, pleaded not guilty yesterday in Woburn District Court. She was released on $10,000 bail and declined to comment as she left the court.

Since the state revoked Power's day-care center license in 1994, officials have fined her and issued three cease-and-desist orders when Power started up the business on subsequent occasions, said Constantia Papanikolaou, a lawyer for the state Office of Child Care Services, which regulates child-care providers.

The state is now considering sending police to shut down unlicensed facilities, a legal option that hasn't been used in the past, Papanikolaou said.

MacKenzie Rose Corrigan of Stoneham died June 5, a day after police found her unconscious and unresponsive at Power's day-care center. Katharine Folger, the Middlesex assistant district attorney prosecuting the case, said in court that the baby suffered brain damage, retinal bleeding, bruises, and internal hemorrhaging, and that the cause of death was shaken-baby syndrome.

''The manner was homicide,'' Folger said. ''This was a healthy, normal, and alert baby that was dropped off at 6:45 a.m. by its mother.''

Power's lawyer, Thomas Hoopes, argued in court that the murder charge was too severe. ''It's manslaughter at best,'' he told Judge Marie Jackson-Thompson.

''No one intends this,'' he told reporters later, responding to questions about whether the baby's death was intentional.

Middlesex District Attorney Martha Coakley said at a news conference at the Reading police station before the arraignment that her office would take a new look at the case of a 10-month-old girl who died in Power's home in 1984. At that time, the death was attributed to sudden infant death syndrome.

Coakley said it is too early to say whether officials will exhume the body of that baby, whose name she did not release.

The state granted Power a license for her home-based day care center in 1980, Papanikolaou said, but revoked it in 1994 after discovering that she had more children enrolled than allowed.

In June, the Office of Child Care Services said Power's license suspension was also due to a complaint that she had abused children. It was learned that she ''has pulled children's hair, grabbed a day-care child's throat, and covered the mouth of day-care children using her hand,'' according to the state.

In 1995, Papanikolaou said, the state learned Power was providing day care again and issued a cease-and-desist order.

Papanikolaou said Power stopped, but the state issued another cease-and-desist order in 1997 and fined her $250, the maximum fine the state can issue for running an unlicensed day-care center, when she was found to be running the business again.

''She paid the fine and indicated that she wouldn't be providing child care anymore,'' Papanikolaou said.

But Power was caught again in 1999, Papanikolaou said. The state issued a third cease-and-desist order and threatened to fine her again.

In a phone interview, Papanikolaou called Power ''a woman committed to providing unlicensed care.'' She said that although definitive records were not available last night, this appears to be the first murder charge brought in the state against a day-care provider.

She added that this is the first time her office has referred a matter to the district attorney's office for prosecution.

Seth Horwitz, a spokesman for the Middlesex district attorney's office, said this is the first murder case that office has handled involving a day-care operator, but he did not know if was the first in the state.

''It's just tragic that this could happen . . . the rules were not followed in this case, and a child died as a result,'' he said.

Yesterday, Power sat expressionless in the courtroom as her husband, Brian, and some of her five children gathered on the courtroom's benches. Neither she nor her family would comment.

Corrigan's parents were not in court, but relatives attended the arraignment. Terry Corrigan, the baby's uncle, said by phone that the family is ''kind of sitting back, waiting to see what will happen'' in the murder case.

Reading police found Corrigan unconscious and unresponsive at 12:39 p.m. on June 4. The baby was taken first to Winchester Hospital, then Children's Hospital in Boston, where she died.

On Thursday, a state medical examiner ruled that the cause of death was shaken-baby syndrome. Folger said Power had 13 children, all under age 6, in her home on June 4. The state allows home care providers to care for only six at a time, Papanikolaou said.

Reading police arrested Power yesterday morning at her home. Hoopes said she was reading to her grandchild at the time.

Hoopes said parents of children Power has cared for have vouched for her in the past, and probably will do so again.

Christine McConville can be reached at cmcconville@globe.com.

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 8/2/2003.


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