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Michigan Supreme Court says ineffective defense warrants new trial

Dept of Corrections

The Michigan Supreme Court says a man convicted of killing a three-year-old girl deserves a new trial.

A Calhoun County jury convicted Leo Ackley of felony murder and child abuse in the death of his girlfriend’s daughter. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

According to Ackley, the child had been napping alone in her room. He claims he discovered her lying unresponsive on the floor next to the bed.

The prosecution alleged that the defendant killed the child, either by blunt force trauma or shaking.

Ackley denies hurting the child. He claims she must have died as the result of an accidental fall.

The Michigan Supreme Court observed the lack of an eyewitnesses made expert testimony a “cornerstone” of the case. 

The jury heard from five prosecution witnesses that the child’s death was likely intentional. 

The jury did not hear from a defense witness claiming her death could have been an accident. Ackley’s attorney did not hire an expert witness. He did have access to funds and a specific expert was recommended.

The Michigan Supreme Court says by failing to hire an expert witness, Ackley’s lawyer presented an ineffective defense.   

The state’s highest court has ordered a new trial.

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.