Nanny acquitted in toddler's death

STAR TRIBUNE (Mpls.-St. Paul) Newspaper of the Twin Cities

Date: 05/06/95

Jim Adams; Anne O'Connor; Staff Writers

A former nanny was found not guilty Friday evening in the death of 1-year-old Ryan Ford of Eagan almost three years ago. After discussing the evidence for 2 1/2 hours, a Dakota County jury acquitted Susan Roers, 24, of charges of first- and second-degree murder. Her attorney, Earl Gray, said the short deliberations showed how weak the prosecution's case was.

"It was 2 1/2 hours on a first-degree murder case," Gray said. "Which just shows that Mr. Backstrom James Backstrom, the Dakota County attorney picked the wrong suspect. The prosecutor can get a ham sandwich and indict it if he wants to. If you don't have the evidence, you shouldn't try to prosecute someone." Assistant County Attorney Karen Asphaug said she felt it was a strong and important prosecution. But, she said, "We can infer that we didn't prove it beyond a reasonable doubt. . . . I'm not in any way criticizing the jury. It is difficult to sit as a jury in judgment. This was a circumstantial-evidence case. The jury was attentive throughout and made a difficult decision."

Gray told the jury when the trial opened three weeks ago that he didn't dispute that someone killed Ryan. But he said it wasn'tRoers. Roers had watched Ryan and his 3-year-old brother four days a week for four months before his death. Gray portrayed Jennifer Ford, 33, as a frustrated mother who was worn out by sleepless nights with her son, who was often sick, and who was under additional stress from living in a small apartment while building a home and learning to be a realtor. Asphaug said Friday night: "I feel especially for Jim and Jennifer Ford. Jennifer was unfairly put on trial herself by the defense. She had absolutely nothing to do with the death of the child. . . . From the moment her son was injured, she and her husband cooperated with law enforcement in the prosecution of the case. We feel that she has handled this ordeal with incredible courage."

Police believe someone smashed the boy's head against the air conditioner in his bedroom, causing a massive skull fracture that led to his death. Lines on his skull wound matched the grille on the air conditioner. Medical experts testified for the defense that the head blow that caused Ryan's death could have occurred more than a day before he was hospitalized while he was in his parents' care. But a doctor who treated Ryan said that the fatal blow occurred about two hours before Ryan's brain scan, which was when Roers was watching him.

Roers cared for Ryan all Monday, Aug. 3, 1992, and for about 40 minutes on Aug. 4 before she called his mother, saying she had heard a crash in Ryan's bedroom and found him lying in his crib with a bump on his head. He had stopped breathing by the time Roers arrived at a Burnsville clinic where he was resuscitated. He later was declared brain dead. The case was delayed because of prosecution appeals after a judge dismissed a grand jury's indictment of Roers. A second grand jury indicted her in January. Since Ryan's death, Roers and her husband have had a child and are expecting a second.

← Back