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Court throws out suit over Niagara Falls baby's death

Eight years of litigation over the death of a 7-month-old Niagara Falls girl have ended with the dismissal of a suit the girl's father filed against a prosecutor and the medical examiner who provided evidence against him.

Jason K. Kirchner sued Niagara County Assistant District Attorney Claudette S. Caldwell and former Erie County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. James J. Woytash in the wake of the dismissal of criminal charges against Kirchner in 2010.

In October 2015, State Supreme Court Justice Mark A. Montour dismissed Kirchner's lawsuit, which accused Caldwell of malicious prosecution and Woytash of false testimony.

The Appellate Division of State Supreme Court last month unanimously said Montour made the right decision.

A state appeals court has dismissed a lawsuit that Jason Kirchner filed against a Niagara County assistant district attorney and medical examiner related to the death of his 7 1/2-month-old daughter Abbigail. (Buffalo News file photo)

The five-judge appellate panel ruled that Kirchner had to show the criminal case against him was pursued without probable cause, but the fact that a grand jury indicted Kirchner torpedoed that argument.

Niagara Falls police originally ruled the May 21, 2009, death of Abbigail V. Kirchner, who had struck her head on the edge of a TV table, was an accident.

But Caldwell and Woytash subsequently conferred about the case, and Woytash said he found more than one injury to the girl's head, severe enough to cause a fatal brain hemorrhage. The medical examiner concluded that the injuries were inflicted within four to six hours of the girl's death, at a time when she was home alone with her father.

Caldwell had Woytash testify before a grand jury, which indicted Kirchner on charges of reckless manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide.

The indictment was dismissed June 4, 2010, after a defense expert, Dr. Charles V. Wetli, argued that Woytash's conclusions were wrong, and that Abbigail actually died of pneumonia. The District Attorney's Office dropped the case after it was unable to find another doctor to back up Woytash's analysis.

The Appellate Division judges wrote that depositions in the civil suit convinced them that neither Caldwell nor Kirchner's angry wife, who later divorced him, coached Woytash to provide false testimony.

Woytash's autopsy report did not rule the girl's death a homicide; it said the manner of death was undetermined. The report also said pneumonia and bronchitis were contributing factors in the death, although it listed the cause of death as blunt-force trauma to the head.

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