(NECN: Jack Thurston, Rutland, Vt.) - Dennis Duby, 31, of Poultney, Vt., denied a second-degree murder charge Monday in connection with the death of his 2-year-old stepdaughter, Dezirae Sheldon. Duby is jailed pending $250,000 bail, set by Vt. Superior Court Judge Theresa DiMauro.
Before the hearing, dozens rallied on the sidewalks and in the streets of Rutland, speaking up for little Dezirae. "No child should have to endure what that child has gone through," said demonstrator Amanda Withington, who said she is a friend of Sheldon's aunt. "No child."
The toddler died last week at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, N.H. She was transferred there after Sheldon was brought to the emergency room at the Rutland Regional Medical Center with severe head injuries.
Investigators say Duby was the only adult at home with the little girl in their apartment in Poultney when she suffered injuries to her head the medical examiner blamed on intense blunt force trauma. The injuries were too severe to have possibly been caused by a fall or some accident, according to the police affidavit filed with the court.
In the police affidavit filed with the court, a Vt. State Police detective said Duby told him he heard a thud from the other room. The investigator said Duby claimed he presumed Dezirae fell. The detective said Duby then changed his story several times, from how the child fell to where the fall happened.
At the emergency room, a doctor said it appeared the toddler's head had been squeezed with great force. The medical examiner's report stated "blunt force trauma" was to blame for the death. In court Monday, no further explanation was given.
"He has no prior criminal history," noted defense attorney Mark Furlan, in entering a not guilty plea on Dennis Duby's behalf.
Furlan acknowledged the emotional nature of the case, which led to the courtroom being full to capacity for the arraignment. "It's a tragedy," he said. "Everyone in this room, I think, understands and agrees with that."
The child's biological mother, Sandra Eastman Duby, lunged toward her husband in the courtroom at the conclusion of the arraignment, shouting "What did you do to my (expletive) baby, you (expletive)?"
Eastman Duby was removed by Sheriff's deputies. Court records show she pled guilty last year to a criminal charge of her own: cruelty to a child under the age of 10.
The demonstrators wondered why little Dezirae was even in the same home, given that history on the part of Eastman Duby. The protestors demanded answers from the Vt. Dept. for Children and Families, holding signs that suggested DCF needs to "own" its role in Dezirae's death.
"I want more than just DCF to look at this; I want an external review done," said Vt. DCF Commissioner Dave Yacovone. "The law prohibits me from discussing details. My response is to make sure there's a thorough review done."
Yacovone told reporters a decision to return a child to
the custody of a parent involved in an abusive situation is not made by DCF
alone. Attorneys, advocates, DCF staff, and a judge discuss concerns before a
decision is made, Yacovone said.
As that probe begins, Yacovone said he offered his condolences with Dezirae Sheldon's family. "I wanted to share with them my sorrow, my deep sorrow," Yacovone said.
Dennis Duby faces a potential punishment of 20 years to life in prison if he's found guilty of second-degree murder. The large group of demonstrators said they will keep pushing for justice for Dezirae.
Sandra Eastman Duby is not facing any new charges in connection to her daughter's death.