Eastpointe woman’s child abuse trial extends to second week

Police testify that defendant gave conflicting stories

By: Kevin Bunch | Roseville - Eastpointe Eastsider | Published May 6, 2016




MOUNT CLEMENS — An Eastpointe woman, charged with first-degree child abuse for allegedly injuring her boyfriend’s 14-month-old son in May 2015, went on trial in Macomb County Circuit Court last week.

The trial started May 4, continued May 5 and 6, and was scheduled to resume May 10, after press time.

Hilary Ulp allegedly injured Nicholas “Nico” Kuras while babysitting the child as her boyfriend, Kevin Kuras, went to a euchre tournament on May 14, 2015. The child was in bed when Kuras got home, according to testimony by Eastpointe Police Detective Matthew Merlo.

Merlo said Ulp gave Kuras a ride to the tournament, and Nico rode along with them. The infant appeared to be in good health at that time, according to Merlo’s testimony. When Kuras returned home, Merlo said, the couple reportedly played cards and had some drinks before going to bed, though Ulp said she was not intoxicated.

Kuras learned that something was wrong the next morning when Nico’s crying woke him up. Merlo said that Ulp told police that Kuras asked her to call 911, but she first called her mother for “reassurance” before calling for an ambulance. Nico appeared “stiff as a board” with his pupils dilated, Merlo said, and was in “obvious distress.”

Defense attorney Stephen Rabaut said that it made sense that she would want to get in touch with someone more experienced when she was scared, though Merlo said it still would have made sense to call 911 first.

They were admitted to St. John Hospital in Detroit, where the emergency room doctor found that Nico had broken ribs, a broken pelvis, swelling in the brain and bleeding on the brain. He suspected child abuse and contacted police; Merlo and other officers arrived and took both Ulp and Kuras to the Police Department for individual questioning.

Merlo interviewed Ulp twice that day, and he said that she initially told him that the child had “bumped his head” when he fell asleep sitting on the floor while she made up his crib. She also later volunteered that he may have injured ribs due to her hugging him too tightly, Merlo said, noting that both explanations came before he told her the specifics of Nico’s injuries.

“I advised her it’s not about hugging — it’s an injury around his torso that couldn’t be caused by hugging,” Merlo told assistant prosecutor Sian Hengeveld.

“The defendant refused to make eye contact pretty much in the whole interview,” Merlo testified. “She was staring at the north wall, to the point where I moved myself to get in her direction of sight, and she moved more. She also covered her face throughout the whole interview.”

Rabaut argued during cross-examination that Ulp told police that she has had trouble making eye contact with people since she was a child, and that in her upset state, she did not want people to see her while she was crying.

“She stated she didn’t like to look at people in that kind of condition,” Rabaut said.

Eastpointe Detective Matthew Hambright, who was the officer in charge of the case, testified that during his own interrogation of Ulp, she told him that Nico fell off a changing table, striking two shelves on the way down — something Hambright said was “not plausible” given the location of the shelves on the changing table.

Ulp later allegedly suggested that he may have fallen onto something on the floor, such as a rocking chair, though Hambright said the chair was on the other side of the room.

Ulp also allegedly told Hambright that Nico was crying after they returned home from dropping off Kuras, and she tried to calm him by tossing him into the air and catching him around his ribs, suggesting that she may have gripped him too tightly and injured him.

Merlo said she was insistent that Kuras loved his child and would never have harmed him; she also told police that she loved Nico like her own son and that “no one deserves to be treated that way.”

At one point, Merlo said, Ulp was left alone to fill out a written statement while police watched on the closed circuit monitors. Merlo testified that she began talking to herself, saying she would never intentionally harm Nico.

Hambright said Kuras had been eliminated as a suspect due to his own demeanor during police interviews, where he was anxious about his son’s condition and seemingly unaware of how the injuries could have been caused. Coupled with Ulp’s own statements and demeanor, along with the injuries to Nico, he said that is why they decided to charge Ulp.

“She said, ‘It was an accident,’ and, ‘I didn’t mean to hurt that baby,’” Hambright testified.

He added that her demeanor during the basic questioning at the hospital and at the booking room was completely different, with her making eye contact and looking at people face-to-face at the hospital.

During the cross-examination, Rabaut noted that the police interrogation did involve supplying some false information — such as finding fingerprints and suggesting that Kuras was throwing her “under the bus” — and withholding information. Merlo said that was legally allowed under police interrogation techniques as a way to get suspects to open up about what they know.

Hengeveld said different techniques could be used on different suspects to try and get information, and that Ulp’s inconsistent story regarding Nico’s injuries prompted additional police efforts. Merlo testified that Ulp also said her behavior would give the impression that she was being “deceitful” during the interview.

Rabaut said that there is no physical evidence or forensic evidence tying Ulp to the baby’s injuries, and that the police case is predicated on Ulp and Kuras’ testimony and the baby’s injuries. He also suggested that Nico’s broken ribs could have been caused by Kuras “hitting his chest” the morning of May 15, though Hambright said that he was not a doctor and that Kuras had not told police anything about hitting the child’s chest; rather, he mentioned cradling his son.