Conley’s daughter went downhill in hospital, witness testifies

  • CHRISTOPHER W. CONLEY

Staff Writer
Published: 2/13/2020 10:24:26 PM
Modified: 2/13/2020 10:24:15 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Defense attorneys in the trial of Christopher Conley, the city man charged with attempted murder for allegedly poisoning his then 7-year-old daughter with drain cleaner in 2015, called their first witnesses Thursday.

One of Conley’s attorneys, Mark H. Bluver of Greenfield, called to the stand a child life specialist at Yale New Haven Hospital, Christine Mace, who worked closely with Conley’s daughter while she was in the hospital. 

She told the jury how the girl looked on the day she was admitted to the hospital on April 15, 2015 — the same day Conley, now 37, allegedly injected Liquid-Plumr into her cecostomy tube. Doctors did not know of the girl’s internal injuries until a few days later.

“She seemed pretty good from what I remember; she seemed like she was feeling well emotionally,” Mace said, adding the girl didn’t look sick to her.

Mace said she had thought the girl was in the hospital for a quick visit based on her appearance but said she was surprised when the girl’s condition started to deteriorate.

“She was getting sicker. You could see it before our eyes,” Mace said under questioning by Bluver. 

First Assistant District Attorney Steven Gagne pressed Mace on her comments that the girl’s condition had deteriorated. She said Conley’s daughter began to appear more withdrawn and gave less eye contact.

Gagne showed her a police report in which Mace had said that within hours of the girl’s admission, she began to complain about stomach pain. He also showed a medical note written by a doctor that said the girl had been vomiting and suffered from abdominal pain on the day she was admitted.

Irene Woods, a former supervisor of investigations with the state Department of Children and Families was the next to testify, explaining to Bluver that officials had gained temporary custody of the girl in early May 2015.

Woods said that in mid-May, Conley and his now ex-wife, Julie Conley, had visited their daughter for a 30-minute supervised visit and were given specific rules, such as no touching.

Asked about the reason for such rules by Gagne, Woods explained that they were unique and created for Conley’s daughter with her safety in mind. Woods said she had been involved with the girl in 2009, when DCF previously filed for custody. 

When asked by Gagne why DCF sometimes asks for custody from the court, Woods explained “because we believe the child is at imminent risk of harm or death … from the custodial parents,” which she said, in this case, were the Conleys.

Also testifying was Joseph Nicholls, a digital forensic examiner who had analyzed data from electronic devices used by the Conleys. He said an iPad was used in the morning on the day of the alleged poisoning, but under cross-examination admitted he could not say definitely who used the device.

Laki Vazakas, an artist in residence at Yale New Haven Hospital who created a video with Conley’s daughter a day after her admission in April 2015, also testified. He said he did not have any indication the girl’s condition was about to worsen while he worked with her.

Judge Richard Carey presided and the trial resumes Friday.

Michael Connors can be reached at mconnors@gazettenet.com.


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