Ulp trial ends with hung jury

By: Kevin Bunch | Roseville - Eastpointe Eastsider | Published May 13, 2016




MOUNT CLEMENS — The multiday trial for Hilary Ulp, the woman charged with first-degree child abuse for allegedly injuring a 14-month-old boy in May 2015, resulted in a hung jury May 12 in Macomb County Circuit Court.

Ulp’s case now returns to a pretrial conference May 25 in circuit court. It is possible that another trial will be held.

According to Macomb County Assistant Prosecutor Sian Hengeveld’s closing arguments, on May 14, 2015, the child’s father, Kevin Kuras, had left his son Nicholas “Nico” Kuras in the care of his girlfriend, Ulp, while Kevin Kuras played in a euchre tournament.

Kuras left for the game at 7:30 p.m., at which point Nico was getting over a cold but otherwise was healthy and normal; this was not the first time he had asked Ulp to watch his son.

When Kuras returned at 10:30 p.m., he checked on his son and found he had rough breathing. Kuras thought that it was due to the cold and applied some Baby Vicks to his son’s chest; he checked on his son again at 2:30 a.m. after playing cards and drinking beer with Ulp, and he found his son’s breathing had slightly improved. Ulp and Kuras went to bed in separate bedrooms, both near Nico’s room.

At about 9 a.m., Hengeveld said, Kuras awoke to Nico “screaming bloody murder,” with his feet pointed down, his body stiff and his head rolling back. Kuras then asked Ulp to call 911, but, Hengeveld said, Ulp allegedly called her mother first for reassurance because she was scared.

According to Dr. Marcus McGraw — a pediatrician and child abuse specialist at St. John Hospital in Detroit and Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak — Nico showed signs of blood vessels bursting in a phenomenon known as “petechia” when McGraw checked him three days after he was admitted. A CAT scan also found that Nico had suffered six broken ribs, a broken collarbone, blood on the brain, swelling on the brain and a broken pelvis.

“I don’t see pelvic fractures very often. They’re unusual, a specific form of trauma that requires quite a bit of force,” McGraw testified. “They’re really uncommon and don’t occur in children without pretty horrific trauma.”

He gave an example of a child getting hit by a car, though even that does not always cause a pelvic fracture, he said. McGraw added that ribs and a collarbone also require an unusual amount of force to break, beyond that of squeezing or hugging a child.

Broken bones and similar injuries would cause immense pain and crying out when they occurred, McGraw said, though if the victim is not being manipulated and moved around, the pain subsides until movement occurs. Hengeveld suggested that Nico’s rough breathing would be evidence of injuries in absence of him crying in pain, and McGraw said that was a possibility.

McGraw also told defense attorney Stephen Rabaut that they were unable to pinpoint when Nico’s injuries occurred, but that it was anywhere within 24-48 hours before he came to the emergency room, including immediately before. An MRI scan would have helped clarify, but

McGraw said that with Nico’s injuries and the length of time a scan takes, it would have been dangerous to remove him from life support to do it.

In his closing arguments, Rabaut told jurors that there was no forensic or physical evidence that linked Ulp to Nico’s injuries, and that character witnesses Jennifer King and Cassandra DeVinney gave glowing testimony to how good Ulp has been with children — including Ulp’s own son, King’s children and neighborhood kids.

“Dr. McGraw told you — and he’s the child abuse expert — that there is no way he can know the time or give an opinion of any medical certainty that there’s anything wrong with Nico at 10:30 at night, there’s no medical opinion with certainty that there was anything wrong at 2:30 in the morning, but we do know there’s something wrong with Nico within minutes when Mr. Kuras was in the room (at 9 a.m.),” Rabaut said. “Before that, there’s no evidence whatsoever to substantiate that Nico has a problem.”

As such, Rabaut said, there is enough reasonable doubt in the case that Ulp should be found not guilty.

Hengeveld said in her closing remarks that Nico’s rough breathing was consistent with an injury, and given statements from both Kuras and Ulp, no one else was present with the child that evening besides Ulp, and she did not notice anything amiss between Kuras and his son.

Coupled with Ulp’s own statements to the police, which included numerous potential accidental explanations for Nico’s injuries before she had been informed of the injuries’ extent — along with statements and behavior that Hengeveld said implied guilt or knowledge of the injuries — Hengeveld believed the reasonable doubt burden had been met and that a guilty verdict was in order.

“You can also look at the defendant’s great lengths to exonerate Kevin as the source of the injuries,” Hengeveld said. “In the meantime, while she is constantly and consistently saying there’s no way Kevin could have done this, by way of excluding him of being the source of the injuries, she’s implicating herself.”

Hengeveld quoted Ulp from the defendant’s police interviews, saying that statements like, “It’s my fault,” “I’ll never be forgiven” and “My life is destroyed” suggested guilt.

Hengeveld added that while they may be missing a few pieces of the puzzle, such as exactly what caused the injuries, the bigger picture was clear.