Trial begins for Northampton man accused of poisoning daughter

  • Christopher W. Conley is led out of Hampshire Superior Court following his arraignment Sept. 2, 2015. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • GAZETTE FILE PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS GAZETTE FILE PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 2/4/2020 8:48:54 PM

NORTHAMPTON — A city man accused of trying to kill his then-7-year-old daughter by poisoning her with drain cleaner in 2015 went on trial on attempted murder and other charges Tuesday.

In her opening statement, Assistant Northwestern District Attorney Linda Pisano told the Hampshire Superior Court jury that Christopher Conley had confessed to police investigators that he had attempted to kill his daughter by injecting a poisonous mixture through a medical device in her intestines because he wanted to end her suffering from an illness.

But defense attorney Mark H. Bluver, of Greenfield, said Conley lied to police when he told them he poisoned the girl, adding that expert testimony would show that her resulting injuries were due to a rare but natural condition that doctors did not diagnose.

Conley’s trial could last three to four weeks, according to Jack Godleski, another of his attorneys.

Conley, 37, was arrested May 20, 2015, after he allegedly confessed to police that he put Liquid-Plumr into his daughter’s cecostomy tube — an implanted tube used to flush the intestines — and then gave her an overdose of painkillers on April 15, 2015. Conley, who was released on bail in 2017 after serving two years in jail, reportedly told investigators in 2015 that he poisoned his child to end her suffering.

After telling the jury of Conley’s reported confession in her opening statement, Pisano detailed the injuries Conley’s daughter experienced in April 2015.

She said the girl was admitted to Yale New Haven Hospital on April 15 with a fever and pain around her cecostomy tube. Although the family lived in Northampton, the girl, who suffered from constipation, had been receiving treatment at Yale New Haven.

Pisano said the girl remained “relatively stable” until the afternoon of April 17, when she started to suffer intense abdominal pain. After doctors noticed dead tissue around her intestines, the girl went into a nearly 8-hour surgery.

Pisano told the jury that one of those doctors is expected to testify that there were “large portions of [the girl’s] intestines that had died, and it appeared almost as if the intestines had melted — like a landmine had gone off in her gut.”

The girl went back into surgery 11 days later, when doctors found a large hole in her bladder, Pisano said.

From the previous tissue damage, as well as the hole and its placement in the girl’s body, doctors “determined that the only viable explanation for what they were seeing, was that a caustic substance had been put into [Conley’s daughter] through her cecostomy tube,” Pisano said.

She told the jury there was a medical explanation as to why it took so long for the poison to cause damage.

Pisano focused on Conley’s statement to the police, in which he said he had stayed home from work to care for his daughter, who had a high fever. According to Pisano, Conley said his daughter began to cry when he told her she had to go to the hospital — so under the guise of regular saline flushes of her tube, Conley mixed saline and drain cleaner and injected it into her body.

“She cried, and he didn’t know what to do, because he didn’t want to put her through this again,” Pisano said, summarizing Conley’s statement to police. “So he decided to kill her.”

After this, Pisano said, Conley overdosed the girl on liquid hydrocodone, which the girl had previously been prescribed. Pisano said Conley had also told police that he had tried to kill his daughter in 2009 by dipping her central line in her feces-filled diapers “in hopes that she would get an infection and it would end her life” — a claim that Pisano said medical records of “inexplicable” infections corroborate.

Bluver began by telling the jury that Conley’s apparent admission to investigators was a lie. Conley and his wife had previously won a custody battle with the Department of Children and Families in 2009, Bluver said.

“He was desperate,” Bluver said. “He figured, ‘If I take the blame, if I fall on my sword, at least [my daughter] will have her mother.’”

Bluver said Conley went to work instead of staying home with his daughter on April 15, and it was not until he came home from work that he was told of the girl’s fever. At that point, Conley and his now ex-wife, Julie Conley, took their child to the hospital as a precaution, Bluver said.

“You will see medical records that make it abundantly clear that this was a child who was not in distress, who was not in pain when she arrived at the hospital,” Bluver said.

A doctor was able to check Conley’s daughter’s stomach with a non-invasive hand examination nearly six hours after the alleged poisoning without incident, Bluver said. Bluver told the jury of multiple checks on the child by medical staff between April 15 and 17 in which Conley’s daughter was playful, talkative and not in any pain.

“Could somebody with Liquid-Plumr running throughout their abdominal cavity experience what medical records show unequivocally?” Bluver asked the jury.

Bluver said doctors were “completely stumped” as to what caused her injuries. He said the doctors had sent material from both surgeries to pathologists who could not figure out what had happened to the girl, who did eventually recover, Bluver said. He said that during the first surgery, doctors had washed out the girl’s stomach, which he argued would have included the drain cleaner.

Bluver said doctors had theories about the cause of the injuries, such as blood clots, but stopped looking for answers when Conley admitted to the crime. Bluver told the jury that they will be presented a medical explanation for Conley’s daughter’s injuries.

“It was a naturally occurring event caused by a natural condition,” Bluver said. “Rare, but natural.”

Julie Conley has pleaded not guilty to assault and battery charges and is expected to go on trial in early March, according to First Assistant District Attorney Steven Gagne, who is prosecuting Christopher Conley’s case along with Pisano and Assistant District Attorney Bethany Lynch.

Besides attempted murder, Conley is charged with assault and battery on a child with a dangerous weapon and assault and battery on a child causing substantial bodily injury.

Judge Richard Carey is presiding over the trial, which resumes Wednesday.

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


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