A woman charged in a daycare murder told police she “felt like a loser” when she threw a 5-month-old baby into a bouncy seat from about three feet away, causing the infant’s head to hit a metal bar. Melissa Clark, of Noble, Oklahoma, was charged Monday with first-degree murder in Cleveland County District Court. Baby Braelyn Zachary was found unresponsive in the daycare after a 911 call on July 19. She was taken by ambulance to a local hospital and then transferred to a Tulsa hospital where she later died, leading to the woman being charged with first-degree murder.
News OK reports that court documents show the woman originally told investigators she had put the baby down for a nap and went to check on one of the other five children she was caring for when she heard a gurgling sound. She says she returned to check on the baby and found her unresponsive. She told police she had fallen in a hallway of the home that morning while holding the baby but that the baby wasn’t injured at that time. She added that she later dropped the baby on a tile floor while she was in the kitchen trying to make a cup of coffee. The daycare owner claimed she gave the baby a bottle around 12:40 p.m. and put her into the bouncy seat until she was sleepy, then moved her to a blanket on the floor.
When baby Braelyn arrived at the hospital, she was placed on life support, but the injuries left her “95 percent” brain dead and she died on Sunday, leading to the woman being charged with murder. According to a report by Fox News, her injuries included subdural hematoma, severe retinal hemorrhaging to both eyes, and a bruise on her forehead. Doctors stated the injuries were consistent with impact. OSBI Detective Jessica Brown spoke of her sadness over the case.
“We knew the extent of her injuries and we knew they were very bad. I can’t imagine what the family is going through.”
The affidavit reveals she told police in the same interview that just after 1 p.m., she was standing about three feet away from the bouncy seat when she threw the baby into the seat. The baby’s head hit a metal bar, according to her statement. The woman told police that she had to break up an argument between Braelyn Zachary and another child, according to court documents. She allegedly said that was when she threw the baby into the bouncy seat and she hit the metal bar, then fell onto the floor. She said she picked up the baby and put her back into the seat. It was shortly thereafter when she heard the baby “choking on fluids.” She said she tried bouncing her and performing CPR and may have shaken her at that time.
The Department of Human Resources closed the daycare after the murder. Court affidavits reveal a doctor in Tulsa told investigators that the child suffered severe head trauma and injuries consistent with being shaken. Melissa Clark’s stories didn’t explain the baby’s injuries, based on the doctor’s finding as reported in the court documents.
The woman told investigators with the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation that she was feeling stressed on July 19, the day of the murder, and “felt like a loser” over personal problems she was coping with, including marital and financial issues. Adding to her list of woes are the current charge of first-degree murder. She told them she had been caring for five other children that day in her daycare. Their ages ranged from 11 months to 5 years. DHS records reveal that workers had made about a dozen visits to the daycare over the previous year, finding a violation only in January. Records noted the only noncompliance was that fire and tornado drills hadn’t been documented. Other months, there were no violations noted, including the most recent visit prior to the infant’s death, in May.
Once the infant was taken to the hospital, DHS workers made a note that a baby had been put on a blanket on the floor to sleep, as well as an infant being placed in a portable travel bassinet, both considered violations of DHS regulations. Clark is still being held on bail of $740,000 after being charged with first-degree murder of a child entrusted to her daycare. A preliminary hearing has been scheduled for August 9.
[Photo by Ivelin Radkov/AP Images]