Clemency hearing held for suburban woman convicted of killing toddler in 2009

A northwest suburban woman who was found guilty of killing a toddler more than 15 years ago while working at a daycare center is requesting to be released from prison.

The clemency hearing for Melissa Calusinski of Carpentersville was held on Tuesday.

Despite her conviction, Calusinski – who was sentenced to 31 years in prison and is serving her time at Logan Correctional Center downstate – has maintained her innocence.

Not eligible for parole until 2039, Calusinski is now hoping to be pardoned – a decision that will soon be in the hands of Governor J.B. Pritzker.

"We’re asking the governor for full clemency and to clear my daughter’s record," said Paul Calusinski, Melissa Calusinski’s father.

Now 37 years old, Melissa Calusinski is turning to the Illinois Prisoner Review Board.

"She's completely, 100 percent innocent," said Paul Calusinski.

During Tuesday’s clemency hearing, Calusinski’s attorney, Kathleen Zellner, who has represented other high-profile defendants – including Steven Avery, the subject of Netflix’s Making a Murderer – petitioned for Calusinski’s release.

Melissa Calusinski was accused of killing 16-month-old Benjamin Kingan at Minee-Subee Day Care Center in Lincolnshire in 2009. She was found guilty during her trial in November 2011.

To this day, she says a videotaped confession where she admitted to throwing the boy to the ground in frustration was coerced.

Zellner also alleges that prosecutors withheld key X-rays which show the boy's injuries that led to his death were old.

"There hasn’t been a weekend, or a month that my wife and I haven’t gone down there," said Paul Calusinski.

Paul Calusinski has made trips to Logan County, where his daughter is serving her time, routine – and often reminisces about their time together.

"That’s when we worked in the bait shop when we started that," said Paul Calusinski while looking at an old photograph.  

He said letters written on his youngest daughter’s behalf poured in ahead of Tuesday’s hearing, which was held in Springfield.

"They were from all around the United States, we even had some that came from England, Australia," said Paul Calusinski.

The Illinois Prisoner Review Board will now review Calusinski's petition before making a recommendation to Gov. Pritzker. Recommendations are confidential and will typically be submitted to the governor’s office within 60 days of a clemency hearing.

FOX 32 Chicago requested a statement from the Office of Governor Pritzker but did not immediately hear back.

The Lake County State’s Attorney’s Office released the following statement late Tuesday night:

"Our office has maintained a grant-funded conviction integrity unit since 2021.  Like all such units across the country, we are open to new evidence at any time. Under nationally accepted standards, that evidence can be carefully and collaboratively reviewed with independent experts. In 2022 and 2023, new evidence led to two exonerations (both with false confessions). In regards to Melissa Calusinski, no such new evidence has been presented to our conviction integrity unit or in this clemency process."

 Kingan's family did not wish to provide comment on Tuesday.