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Baltimore Co. drops charges against man accused of killing 3-month-old daughter

Karrington Riley died in September 2015 at age 3 months.
Karrington Riley died in September 2015 at age 3 months. (HANDOUT)

All charges have been dropped against a man accused of killing his 3-month-old daughter in Baltimore County last year.

Karrington Kathleen Riley died in September 2015, days after her father, Derran Claggett, brought her to Northwest Hospital. The little girl wasn't breathing and had suffered trauma to her chest and head, police said at the time.

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Claggett, now 38, was later indicted on charges including first-degree murder, first-degree assault and child abuse. He was set to go to trial earlier this month, but county prosecutors dismissed the case.

His defense attorney said the state did the right thing, but some of Karrington's family members say the decision to drop the case leaves them without closure.

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"My 3-month-old has no justice," said Latiese Riley, the girl's mother.

Claggett's lawyer, Stephen Sacks, said his client is innocent.

"I give the state a huge amount of credit for doing the right thing," Sacks said. For a prosecutor, "the hardest thing in the world is to drop a murder case."

He added: "There's no winners in this case. … It's a sad story."

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Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott Shellenberger said that as prosecutors dug into the case, the timeline of the baby's injuries became crucial. The medical evidence could not pinpoint exactly when her fatal injuries occurred, which "led us to realize that more than just the charged defendant could have injured the baby," he said.

"Because of this hole in the evidence, we felt that in the interest of justice we could not in good conscience go forward, so we dismissed the case," Shellenberger said.

Riley said she was shocked when she learned of the prosecutors' decision.

"I was speechless," she said.

When the infant's body was brought to the medical examiner's office last fall, she was clad in a hospital gown, lying on top of a green and yellow patchwork baby blanket. A pink bow was in her hair.

The autopsy found that her death was a homicide, the result of multiple injuries.

She had suffered injuries to her head, neck and torso, with bruises all over, the autopsy found. She had multiple rib fractures, including ones that were healing.

"The presence of acute and healing injuries is consistent with ongoing child abuse," the medical examiner found.

According to a county police report, Claggett walked into the emergency room at Northwest Hospital carrying the unconscious baby shortly after 11:30 p.m. on Sept. 19, 2015.

Riley and Claggett were no longer in a relationship, Riley said. At that point, she had a protective order against him and had arranged the visit through his family members. Because of the protective order, Riley dropped off the child with one of Claggett's relatives, who then brought the baby to his Randallstown home.

After bringing the baby to the hospital, Claggett told police officers that his daughter had had several health problems that day, including a bloated stomach and trouble breathing. At one point, she was limp and lethargic, he said, according to the report. He said he lay down with her about 10:45 p.m. to go to sleep and later saw she wasn't breathing.

The baby was transferred from Northwest hospital to the Johns Hopkins Children's Center. On Sept. 23, she was taken off life support.

Riley had been granted a temporary protective order against Claggett on Aug. 31, 2015, and a permanent order on Sept. 8 of that year, court records show. The order stemmed from an incident in which Riley alleged Claggett punched and kicked her in the head as she tried to take the baby out of his car. In a legal petition for the order, Riley said Claggett began to drive away as she hung out of the car, clinging to the baby's car seat. Claggett was later convicted in Anne Arundel County of second-degree assault in connection with that incident.

Claggett had not seen the baby since the protective order was issued until the day she was brought to him for a visit, his lawyer said.

"There is no doubt that the healing wounds could never have been imposed by my client," Sacks said. "The child was being injured by someone else."

Riley and her sister, LaDeja Hairston-Willis, dispute that.

"There is no way that I believe that anyone else in our family did this," Hairston-Willis said.

Hairston-Willis said it's very hard to explain to the infant's young cousins what happened.

"We know that something bad happened to Karrington, but there's no bad guy in jail," she said. "It's just unsettling. ... The wound is there. There's no closure."

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