More than four years after the death of Dezirae Sheldon, her family is still fighting for justice.
Attorney Thomas Costello represented Dezirae’s estate Wednesday before Vermont’s highest court.
“Dezirae suffered bilateral fractures of the cranium, direct fractures of her little skull, she suffered for 36 hours and then she died,” said Costello.
A year before the toddler’s death, she was brought to the hospital in 2013 with breaks in both legs. The Department for Children and families launched an investigation. It found the toddler’s mother, Sandra Eastman to be responsible.
“Several inconsistent explanations she gave during the investigation including that her sister may have been responsible, that she had dropped her in a pack and play, that demons could have done, that she didn’t know what happened,” said Kendall Hoechst, Nicholas Ruggiero’s attorney.
Eastman even said her then-boyfriend, Dennis Duby may have caused the injuries.
Ruggiero was working as an independent contractor for DCF at the time, paperwork show he denied an appeal made by the mother. DCF eventually placed Sheldon back in the mother’s custody who was then married to Duby.
“There was never a determination of who inflicted these injuries,” said Costello.
Several months later, the toddler died as a result of fractures to her skull. Costello argues Ruggiero failed to properly report allegations that Duby was hurting Dezirae.
A trial court previously sided with Ruggiero.
Costello said, “If Ruggiero made that report and there had been an investigation which there never was before, it would have happened and that little girl would be alive today.”
Meanwhile, Ruggiero’s attorney says he completed a thorough review of DCF’s findings.
Hoechst said, “In any event out an abundance of caution even though Mrs. Eastman was not credible, Mr. Ruggiero made a report that did comply with the statute.”
Dubey pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 13 years in prison last year.
The court will take the Wednesday’s arguments under advisement.