Babysitter pleads not guilty in NJ toddler's death

CAMDEN, N.J. - July 11, 2011

Sheila Polanski, 34, of Westville, teared up as she entered court for an arraignment. She cried throughout her arraignment on a murder charge, as did the family of two-year-old Madeline McHenry.

She initially was charged with aggravated assault after Madeline was found unresponsive last Tuesday.

The toddler died Thursday, and the charge against Polanski was upgraded the following day.

Polanski had been watching the girl in the child's Gloucester City home, and Camden County prosecutors say emergency responders noted fresh bruises on the girl's body.

Polanski initially denied responsibility, but prosecutors say she later admitted shaking the child when she wouldn't stop crying and throwing her to the ground.

"The defendant grabbed the child around her chest, continuously shook the child in a violent manner then threw Madeline to the floor," said prosecutor Mary Alison Albright.

Investigators say Polanski left the girl to die on the living room floor of her parent's home. It may have been hours before she finally called 911.

"She then called a friend for advice and it was her friend who finally told her 'You need to call 911,'" said Albright.

Polanski was hired by Jenn and Dan McHenry to babysit their children after coming highly recommended with a resume and references.

But, she apparently did not reveal she is on medication for mental health issues. She also has a prior criminal record.

In court, her only words were to acknowledge that she understands the charges against her.

Polanski's was ordered held on $500,000 cash bail.

Her lawyer, Saul Steinberg, says her family feels for Maddy's family.

"It's a tragic situation. At this point, no matter what the facts are and how the facts develop it's always a tragic situation," Steinberg said. "Any family would have to have empathy and concern for the death of a child."

If she doesn't come up with the $500,000 it may be a long time, if ever, before Polanski walks free. If convicted she faces a life sentence with a mandatory minimum of 30 years.

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