Scoop: 48 HOURS on CBS - Saturday, December 17, 2016

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Melissa Calusinski says she loves children and would never hurt them. But today she sits in prison serving a 31-year sentence for murdering a child under her watch at a suburban Chicago day care center. Was she wrongfully convicted, as her powerhouse attorney Kathleen Zellner, maintains, or is she a murderer, as argued by the prosecution?

Erin Moriarty and 48 HOURS have the latest stunning twists in an investigation into the Calusinski case, including allegations of evidence tampering, and her legal team’s effort to get her out of prison in “The Fight for Melissa,” to be broadcast Saturday, Dec. 17 (10:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.

“This is my time to let everybody know and for my lawyers to show that I did not at all commit this crime,” Calusinski tells Moriarty.

It’s a case that delves into what happens after a confession; what can happen when a key player in the investigation admits he made a glaring mistake; and the challenges an attorney faces when trying to overturn a conviction.

The story begins in January 2009, when, according to Calusinski, 16-month-old Ben Kingan, a child in her care at the Minee Subee day care center, fell asleep in his bouncy chair. When Calusinski tried to wake him, he was unresponsive. She called for help. Her sister, Crystal, began CPR. Ben was pronounced dead an hour later. Two days later, Calusinski was brought to a police station for questioning. Investigators were told by the pathologist that Ben had massive bleeding in his head and a skull fracture that happened on the day he died. Calusinski denied she did anything wrong at least 79 times, but after nine hours in the interrogation room, she confessed to slamming Ben down on the floor.

“There were extensive injuries to this child…internally,” says prosecutor Stephen Scheller. “It’s clear that she killed Benjamin.”

Calusinski was tried and convicted of murder but she has always maintained that she’s innocent and her confession was false. After she was convicted, a new coroner examined the original autopsy evidence and found the original pathologist had made an error: Ben had an old injury that dated back a couple of months. And a few years later, the new coroner’s staff also found clear X-rays that he and other defense experts say show that Ben did not have a skull fracture.

Zellner believes Calusinski was wrongfully convicted and says she has even more evidence that proves that her client’s conviction should be overturned. She charges the original defense was given dark inferior X-rays on purpose to obscure that there was no skull fracture. She also says that a key witness for the State — pathologist Dr. Manny Montez — was not truthful when he testified at Melissa’s trial about having touched the fracture.

“He talked about the violent trauma, the raggedy fracture. He touched it, looked at it – it was unbelievable what he saw,” Zeller says. “Problem is he never saw any of it.”

The prosecution stands by Dr. Montez’s testimony. They say the defense was given the right X-rays, and that they weren’t manipulated.

Zellner specializes in wrongful convictions and successfully fought for the release of Ryan Ferguson, a Missouri man convicted of killing a local newspaper sports editor. Ferguson was freed from prison after 13 appeals. And she’s representing Steven Avery, whose story was told in the Netflix series “Making a Murderer.”

Zellner hopes to find a way to free Calusinski, just as she did Ferguson. What will the judge decide?

48 HOURS: “The Fight for Melissa” is produced by Lourdes Aguiar, Gail Zimmerman and Charlotte Fuller. Ken Blum, Richard Barber, Grayce Arlotta-Berner, and Mike Vele are the editors. Judy Tygard is the senior producer. Susan Zirinsky is the senior executive producer.


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