“I do believe anyone can shake a baby, not just monsters. But I believe the real crime is in the lying and avoiding blame after the fact. She hurt my son not once but at least twice. She let him suffer and she was silent. She didn’t tell me she abused my child and she never called 911, delaying his care.”
It was the afternoon of Friday, April 3, 2015 and Gretchen Sloan spoke at the sentencing of her son’s abuser, Toni Mackay. Two months earlier, on February 13, 2015, Mackay was found guilt by a Waukesha county jury of Child Abuse-Recklessly Cause Great Harm, a class E felony. Abraham, now 2.5 years old, was just three months old when he was shaken and slammed down by Mackay.
A large component of the trial centered around three confessions made by Toni Mackay, two of which were recorded and played in court. She admitted to at least two occasions of shaking and slamming Abe. The jury twice requested to re-watch one of the tapes during their 11.5 hours of deliberation.
Mackay said that on January 22, 2013 she was changing Abe’s diaper and he was crying and being “crabby.” She confessed to slamming him down on the couch in her residence, causing his head to strike an exposed wooden area. He began to have intermittent vomiting. Over the next two weeks his parents sought answers for his mysterious illness, taking him to both urgent care and his pediatrician.
On February 6, 2013 Mackay shook Abe again, because he was crying and would not drink from his bottle. Again, after shaking him, she slammed him down on the couch and he struck his head against the wooden framing. About an hour later Abe went into a seizure. Rather than call 911 Mackay left a voicemail for his mother, Gretchen Sloan. Not realizing Abe had actually had a seizure, but still concerned, his mother took him to the ER at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin.
There a scan showed bleeding around Abe’s brain. He would need neurosurgery. Retinal bleeding was also found in both of his eyes. The damage was more severe in the right and this would later require his left to be patched.
Abe’s family uses his Facebook page, Team Abe, to raise awareness of shaken baby syndrome and update friends and family on Abe’s progress. Shortly after Abe was shaken his extended family rallied around him and with the help of many friends in the community hosted an event they called Bowling for Babes. Hundreds showed in support of baby Abe and it was a great success. The event helped with Abe’s medical expenses and the Sloan family made a generous donation to Lola’s Hope. Gretchen Sloan serves as VP Operations for the non profit organization.
At sentencing she went on to state, “We are trying to make the best of a terrible thing. We are part of a non-profit spreading SBS awareness and prevention. Everyone needs to know they can just lay a baby down, don’t shake, and take a break. One of our first goals (which have been realized with help from Victim Witness) was to start a support group for families of SBS survivors and angels. I say angels because 30% of babies who are shaken like Abe actually die. Abe is lucky. Not because Toni Mackay did the right thing, because we advocated for him and never stopped bringing him to a doctor.”
Toni Mackay was sentenced to 2.5 years in state prison-imposed and stayed, and 2.5 years extended supervision. She will serve 9 months in county jail as part of the terms of her 5 years probation. In more simple terms, Mackay will not spend any time in prison unless she violates the terms of her probation, which include barring her from providing any child care services (except for her own child) or having any child care related employment.
When I asked Gretchen if she felt justice had been served she responded, “I feel like Abe received a small dose of justice, much more than some receive but not nearly as much as he deserves. We are grateful for our ounce of Justice and pray his abuser uses her time behind bars wisely but if she now denies she caused the abuse, I am not sure how she will heal and will remain a danger to children.”
Approximate Date: 1/22/13
County: Waukesha, Wisconsin
Age: 3 months
Symptoms: intermittent vomiting, irritability, refusal of bottles and seizures
Diagnosis: chronic subdural hematoma, bilateral retinal hemorrhages.
Abuser Relation: unlicensed care provider (also great aunt of victim through marriage)
Victim Consequences: neurosurgery, early intervention therapy services, decreased quality of life, decreased life expectancy and other unpredictable long term consequences
Abuser Consequences: Toni Mackay of Waukesha was convicted of Child Abuse-Recklessly Cause Great Harm, a class E felony, Wisconsin Statutes 948.03(3)(a). Mackay was sentenced to 2.5 years state prison, imposed and stayed, and 2.5 years extended supervision. She will serve 9 months in county jail as part of the terms of her 5 years probation.
About the Author
Krysta Bernicky is the Executive Director of Lola’s Hope Inc. and the mother of an abusive head trauma survivor. Her daughter, Lola, was just five months old when she was injured while in the care of a close female relative. The trauma rocked her family to its core. After a year of silence Krysta felt driven to speak out and raise awareness using social media. She joined forces with other local parents of victims and together they formed a non-profit organization, Lola’s Hope Inc. She has presented in a variety of settings, including at the International Conference on SBS/AHT in Denver, CO. Krysta feels very passionate about speaking out on behalf of child abuse victims and sharing their stories.