A day care owner charged with the murder and assault of an 11-month-old baby will stand trial, a judge decided Tuesday.
James Patrick Nemeth was arrested and charged last year with murder and assault in the May 2012 death of Louis "Lou" Oliver. He pleaded not guilty in November, nearly two years after Lou’s death.
In court Tuesday, a dozen witnesses answered questions from Deputy District Attorney Nicole Rooney and defense attorney Albert Arena.
The mother of 11-month old Lou Oliver, Cristina Oliver, gave an emotional account of what happened when she arrived to Rady Children’s Hospital on May 23, 2012.
“I wasn't able to see him right away,” Oliver said. “I knew something terrible had happened because the EMT’S were outside and they were pacing and I could tell something horrible had happened. I finally asked if I could see him and they brought me into the ER room and he was not doing well, he was hooked up on all these machines and there must have been 10 people nurses and doctors trying to stabilize him.”
Lou was alert and healthy when he was dropped him off at the San Diego Daycare, also known as the James Nemeth Family Childcare, on May 23, 2012, according to this mother.
Just a few hours later, she says she got an alarming text message from Nemeth telling her to "come quickly, Lou did not wake up from his afternoon nap," Oliver told NBC 7 in February.
Nemeth's former day care assistant, Christina Duran, also testified Tuesday. She said the day Lou died, she heard a loud sound coming from the room where Nemeth was trying to put Lou down for a nap.
“I was sitting there and I heard a slam,” Duran said. She said she overheard Nemeth talking to Lou saying to the baby, “there is no reason to cry you’ve been fed, you’ve been changed, you need to take a nap.”
Rooney asked Duran if Nemeth seemed frustrated at the time. She said she answered “yes.”
Marilyn Kaufhold, a pediatrician at Rady Children's Hospital and expert in child abuse, also testified Tuesday. She said she reviewed Lou's medical records and said his cause of death was "most likely child abuse" and specifically "shaking that caused internal bleeding" in the brain, spinal cord and eyes.
She acknowledged there was evidence of an earlier, prior minor head injury. But Kaufhold said that earlier injury, which happened about a week before he died, did not cause Lou’s death. Kaufhold said people who shake babies are usually trying to make them sleep and don't know how dangerous and deadly it can be.
Last year, NBC 7 Investigates reported that before Lou's death, Nemeth had a lengthy history of serious violations, including allegations that he was physically rough with his own child. In November, Nemeth emailed a statement to NBC 7, saying in part: "I cared for Louis, he was an amazing child. I tried everything I could to save him and the fact I failed is something that will be with me forever."
The NBC 7 Investigates report also found it was very difficult for parents to review files on what happens to their children while in the care of individual day cares. After our reports,state lawmakers changed the way parents can access information about day cares in California, making the information available online, instead of only in person by appointment.
Click here to see the complete investigation.
Defense attorney Al Arena questioned the medical experts including Kaufhold, trying to show evidence of a prior head injury. In an exclusive interview, he told NBC 7 Nemeth is not the only suspect.
“We're not conceding that the child was injured at the day care center,” he said. “But, if you look at in the light most favorable to the prosecution, there were three adults that were there at the day care."
Nemeth will be back in court March 19, but his trial date has not been set. If convicted, he could spend 25 years to life in prison.