A Mercer County police officer charged with ᴋɪʟʟɪпɡ his infant daughter in 2018 was released from a county jail in January following a favorable ruling in his defense last year concerning police seizing his cell phone, his attorney said.
Daniel Bannister, 33, is charged with ᴍᴜгԀᴇг and endangering the welfare of a child in the Ԁᴇɑтһ of his daughter, 3-month Hailey Bannister. He’d been jailed pending trial since his arrest in the summer of 2019.
Bannister is a Ewing police officer who was suspended from the force following his daughter’s Ԁᴇɑтһ.
His wife, Catherine Bannister, 32, is charged with reckless manslaughter in Hailey’s Ԁᴇɑтһ, as well as endangering. She was freed from jail shortly after her arrest. She was a teacher at a charter school in Trenton. (Her state license was suspended in 2020 pending the outcome of the case.)
The Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office alleges Hailey ԀɪᴇԀ following a pattern of abuse in her short life, suffering nine skull fractures, broken ribs and ЬʟᴇᴇԀɪпɡ in her brain. Prosecutors accuse Daniel of inflicting the ɪпȷᴜгɪᴇѕ and Catherine with knowing about it and failing to report him to authorities or the ɪпȷᴜгɪᴇѕ to doctors.
Hailey was taken via ambulance to a hospital in Mercer County on Dec. 5, 2018, and prosecutor’s detectives started investigating that day after hospital staffers reported her ɪпȷᴜгɪᴇѕ. The girl died six days later at a hospital in New Brunswick.
Early in the investigation, detectives confiscated the couple’s cell phones and applied for a warrant to examine the calls and texts, court documents show. The information was key to charging the couple in July 2019, as they allegedly revealed “extensive” communications about Daniel allegedly ɑЬᴜѕɪпɡ the girl.
(The Middlesex County Medical Examiner’s Office had ruled in May 2019 that Hailey’s ԀɪᴇԀ from blunt impact тгɑᴜᴍɑ to the head, and her Ԁᴇɑтһ was a һᴏᴍɪᴄɪԀᴇ.)
This past September, though, Mercer County Judge Darlene Pereksta suppressed the cell phone evidence, ruling that the detectives did not have probable cause of criminality to access the phones, Daniel’s attorney Jeffrey G. Garrigan said.
The prosecutor’s office has appealed that decision to the state’s Appellate Division. Oral arguments are scheduled for late March, Garrigan said.
A prosecutor’s spokesperson declined to discuss the motion since it’s pending appeal.
Moreover, Garrigan said there are other issues that he believes have significantly weakened the case.
First, he’s submitted reports from medical experts that say Hailey was ill from birth and ԀɪᴇԀ of natural causes, not child ɑЬᴜѕᴇ.
Secondly, Garrigan said a child abuse expert that investigators used in the case, Dr. Gladibel Medina, was recently deemed unreliable in an unrelated case in Middlesex County.
Details of that case were not immediately clear.
However, last week, the New Jersey Supreme Court found fault with Medina’s testimony in the case of a nanny accused in Somerset County of breaking the legs of a child in her care, and cited it as one of the reasons for ordering that suspect a new trial.
In the Bannister case, a detective wrote in an affidavit of probable cause that Medina reviewed Hailey’s medical records and identified “critical” dates in the girl’s ɪпȷᴜгɪᴇѕ. Specifically, Medina pegged Nov. 23, 2018 as the day the newborn suffered her ultimately fatal ɪпȷᴜгɪᴇѕ due to the child’s vomiting.
Detectives then compared that date to the parents’ phones and found information on Catherine’s phone about the vomiting, as well as Daniel being the sole adult caregiver to Hailey on that morning and afternoon, the detective wrote.
Against the backdrop of those developments, Garrigan said, Judge Pereksta revisited Daniel Bannister’s pretrial detention status and on Jan. 19 freed him from jail. His client spent two-and-a-half years behind bars in protective custody, he said.
The Mercer prosecutor’s office declined comment on Garrigan’s assessment of the case, but said Daniel Bannister was released on level III monitoring, the highest, with restrictions in place regarding supervised contact with children.
Attempts to reach Medina through St. Peter’s University Hospital in New Brunswick, where she has affiliations, were not immediately successful.