A Massachusetts doctor accused of killing a 6-month-old infant in her care has been found guilty of second-degree murder.
Dr. Pallavi Macharla, 45, of Burlington, was charged with the March 27, 2014, death of Ridhima Dhekane, who died in Macharla's apartment while the defendant was babysitting her.
The jury reached its verdict after about eight hours of deliberations. Judge Kenneth Fishman sentenced Macharla to life in prison with the possibility of parole in 15 years.
Following the verdict, Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan and Burlington Chief of Police Michael Kent held a news conference.
"The victim's family trusted Ms. Macharla to protect and care for their child. In part that trust was due to the defendant’s background as a trained medical professional. However, at about 2:40 p.m., when the baby became unresponsive while in the defendant’s care, Ms. Macharla called the victim’s mother instead of dialing 911," said Ryan.
"The loss of any child is tragic," said Kent. "To lose an innocent and defenseless child in such a violent and senseless manner is devastating. I extend my deepest condolences to the victim's family. No guilty verdict can ever bring their loved one back, but I hope they will find some comfort in knowing the defendant will now be held accountable."
In court last week, the judge instructed the jury they had four possible verdicts to consider: not guilty, guilty of first-degree murder, guilty of second-degree murder or guilty of involuntary manslaughter.
Prosecutors had said Macharla, a physician in her native India who ran a daycare out of her home, shook Dhekane so violently her brain bled.
"We know that Ridhima was subject to violent force when she was alone with the defendant," Middlesex County Assistant District Attorney Katharine Folger said during closing arguments Friday. "We know that that force was enough to cause bleeding in her brain."
Folger said Macharla knew she had inflicted injuries Dhekane would not survive.
"She was not concerned about Ridhima, it was all about her... not the life of the little baby she was entrusted to protect," said Folger.
She also said Macharla was a medical doctor but never practiced on her own, instead following her husband to the United States and choosing to focus on raising her own children while offering child care services.
"But all of that unraveled by March 27, 2014," stated Folger.
Defense attorney J.W. Carney said the baby died from cardiac arrest and suggested she may have choked on homemade applesauce or her own vomit. Macharla, who pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder, took the stand in her own defense to describe how she heard the baby gurgle and saw her eyes close.
"At that time, all I knew was that she was not breathing – she had labored breathing, so at that time all I was thinking was to bring her back to breathing," recalled Macharla.
She said she called the baby's mother and performed CPR on her, but did not call 911, saying her goal was to get the infant to breathe.
Carney argued that Marcharla never changed her story as was suggested by prosecutors. He said she only lied about one thing.
"She lies about one thing, when Pallavi went to get her son, she asked (a neighbor who used to watch her) to stay with her for 30 minutes while she was sleeping," said Carney.
Prosecutors say Macharla didn't promptly call 911, instead calling the baby's mother, and as a trained doctor she should have known better. The baby died at a hospital days later.
Carney had argued for the judge to instruct jurors on involuntary manslaughter as an option. He said the medical examiner who performed an autopsy on the baby changed her mind and said she no longer believed the baby died from "shaken baby syndrome."
Prosecutors argued that the child was a "perfectly healthy" infant leading up to the day of her death, and the only explanation is that Macharla inflicted the fatal injuries.
Carney argued on Friday that the child had no rib fractures, exterior injuries and no signs of shaken baby syndrome.