HOLLYWOOD, Fla. — A Texas woman has been arrested and charged with murdering a Florida man who died in 2019, more than 35 years after she violently shook him as a baby and caused permanent disability.
Terry Delores McKirchy, 59, of Sugar Land, was indicted on a first-degree murder charge earlier this month in Broward County, where the crime took place in 1984. She is accused of killing Benjamin Keith Dowling, 35, of Bradenton.
Benjamin, who was 5 months old when he suffered devastating brain damage, died Sept. 16, 2019. McKirchy, who was babysitting the boy at the time, denied causing the injuries, according to The Associated Press.
McKirchy, then 22, claimed that Benjamin had fallen from the couch and injured himself, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported.
Despite her denials, McKirchy pleaded no contest in June 1985 to attempted murder and aggravated battery of a child. Florida court records indicate she received an extremely light sentence.
McKirchy was made to spend weekends in jail for three months — until her third child was born, according to the AP. She then served three years’ probation.
The reasons for such a lenient sentence were not immediately clear Tuesday.
“I know I didn’t do it. My conscience is clear. But I can’t deal with it anymore,” McKirchy told the Miami Herald in 1985. “I’m six months pregnant. You wouldn’t believe what this has done to my family.”
Broward County State’s Attorney’s Office officials said McKirchy has waived extradition and is awaiting transfer from Texas to Florida. As of Tuesday morning, she remained jailed in Fort Bend, Texas.
“The passage of time between the injuries sustained and the death of the victim were considered by the forensic experts who conducted the autopsy and ruled the death was directly caused by the injuries from 1984,” Broward County prosecutors said in a statement obtained by the AP. “This case was presented to the grand jury, which determined that this was a homicide.”
Because she was previously convicted of attempted murder and not murder, McKirchy’s constitutional protections against being tried twice for the same crime do not apply.
Dowling was left profoundly disabled following the traumatic brain injury he suffered as an infant, the Sun-Sentinel reported.
“Benjamin never crawled, fully rolled over, walked, never talked, never fed himself, he never enjoyed a hamburger or an ice cream cone,” the Dowlings said in a statement. “He could never tell us when he had an itch or anything hurt. When he cried in pain, we as a family and caregivers had to guess as to what was wrong and hope that we could satisfy his need.”
“Benjamin would never know how much he was loved and could never tell others of his love for them. Benjamin did smile when he was around his family, although he could never verbalize anything. We believe he knew who we were and that we were working hard to help him.”
In 1984, Rae and Joe Dowling were living in Plantation with Benjamin, their firstborn child. The boy, who was described by his parents as the “most beautiful baby in the world” was also his grandparents’ first grandchild.
The infant was above average in his weight and height and hitting all of his developmental milestones. He was sleeping through the night and had begun eating soft cereal and rolling over, his parents told the Sun-Sentinel.
Then came July 3, 1984, when Rae Dowling dropped Benjamin off at McKirchy’s home in Hollywood, part of the Fort Lauderdale suburbs.
McKirchy, who had two of her own children and babysat two others besides Benjamin, took care of the infant while his parents worked. When Rae Dowling went to retrieve her son, however, she immediately knew something was very wrong.
Dowling told police her son’s hands were clenched, and his face was turning blue, the newspaper reported. His breathing was shallow, and his normally expressive blue eyes were blank.
After her son’s pediatrician told her to meet him at Plantation General Hospital, doctors there determined that Benjamin had what was then called Shaken Infant Syndrome. They deduced that the boy had been violently shaken, causing bleeding in his brain.
Benjamin survived, but despite years of occupational, speech and physical therapy, he made no progress. He had multiple surgeries over the years, including the placement of a feeding tube when he was 18 months old.
He also required metal rods along his spine to keep it straight, the Sun-Sentinel reported.
The Dowlings went on to have two more children besides Benjamin, who required round-the-clock care. He died in 2019 at the family’s home.
In his obituary, his parents wrote that the assault “lead to a life of struggle and full-time care.”
“He lived to the older age of 35 because he was so loved and well cared for by his entire family, especially his mom (Rae), dad (Joe), sister (Melissa), brother (Joseph), loving grandparents and extended family,” the obituary read.
His family recalled the good times in Benjamin’s life, attending his brother and sister’s sporting events and other activities. He traveled around the U.S. with his family and attended a family reunion in the Bahamas.
“Benjamin taught us all many valuable life lessons and everyone who knew Benjamin was better because they did,” his family wrote.
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