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Woman faces murder charge after victim of decades-old ‘shaken baby’ case dies at 35

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Terry McKirchy is facing a first-degree murder charge for a crime that prosecutors said she committed nearly four decades ago in Broward County. She thought the case was behind her, but a medical examiner’s office report shows differently, prosecutors said.

Benjamin Keith Dowling died Sept. 16, 2019 in Manatee County. He was 35 years old. After performing an autopsy, forensic experts with the medical examiner’s office ruled Sept. 27, 2019 that Dowling’s cause of death was “sequelae of abusive head trauma.” Prosecutors said the head injury happened in 1984.

Dowling was a healthy boy when he was born on Jan. 13, 1984 in Tampa. He was just a 5½-month-old baby in Hollywood when his parents, Rae and Joe Dowling, left him in the care of McKirchy, then a 22-year-old babysitter.

When his mother returned, he was lethargic and clenched his fists. Doctors ruled he had suffered abusive head trauma, also known as “shaken baby syndrome.” The Sun-Sentinel reported McKirchy claimed the baby fell off the couch and she was innocent.

“I know I didn’t. My conscience is clear. But I can’t take care of it anymore, " McKirchy told The Miami Herald in 1985 about her reasons for accepting a deal. “I am six months pregnant. You wouldn’t believe what this did to my family.”

Benjamin Keith Dowling lived with severe disabilities after a babysitter was accused of causing him a head injury when he was just a 5-month-old baby. (Family hand out)

McKirchy accepted a plea deal to put the case behind her. McKirchy was pregnant at the time of sentencing for first-degree attempted murder and aggravated battery on a child. A judge allowed her to serve jail time on weekends.

Meanwhile, Dowling lived with severe disabilities, including the use of a feeding tube, until his death at home in Bradenton.

“We cherish our time with and memories of Benjamin, and we continue to support him through our belief that there should be justice for Benjamin,” The Dowling family said in a statement.

U.S. Marshals found and arrested McKirchy, 59, on July 2 in Fort Bend County, Texas.

U.S. Marshals arrested Terry McKirchy, 59, on July 2 in Fort Bend County, Texas. (Fort Bend County Sheriff's Office)

Broward State Attorney Harold F. Pryor released a statement saying forensic experts performed the autopsy and ruled the death was directly caused by the injuries from 1984 while considering the passage of time between the injuries sustained and the death of the victim.

“The facts speak for themselves and this case was presented to the grand jury, which determined that this was a homicide,” Pryor said.

If found guilty, McKirchy could face a life sentence.

First page of autopsy report

About the Authors:

Liane Morejon is an Emmy-winning reporter who joined the Local 10 News family in January 2010. Born and raised in Coral Gables, Liane has a unique perspective on covering news in her own backyard.

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.