POULTNEY, Vt. – Two-year-old Dezirae Sheldon died from a fractured skull, and now officials are looking into her case to determine if her death could have been prevented.
Dezirae was taken away from her mother, Sandra Duby, in 2013 after her mother was convicted of child abuse for breaking Dezirae's legs. The toddler was returned to her mother a couple months later.
Prosecutors believe Dezirae's stepfather, Dennis Duby, crushed her skull February 19. Dezirae died Friday.
"I've seen too many times in the past that a child is returned after an allegation," attorney Paul DerOhannesian said.
DerOhannesian has dealt with similar cases in the past 20 years. He said one key problem in these types of cases is the young victims who can't speak for themselves.
"When a child can't speak, who do you rely on?" he asked. "The caretaker for history and information; they may be part of the problem."
Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin spoke out about Dezirae's case.
"It breaks my heart," he said. "Breaks Vermonters hearts."
Shumlin has called for an external investigation to determine why Dezirae was returned to her mother's custody.
"To find out what we could have done differently," he said. "Nothing will bring her life back, but we'll do everything we can to understand how we can do better next time."
Dave Yacovone is the Commissioner of the Vermont Department of Children and Families.
"State workers, DCF social workers do not have the authority to say who goes out and who goes back," he said.
DCF said that decision is made by the judge, but the judge relies on the investigation DCF conducts as they visit the child's home and conduct interviews with friends and family.
"Sometimes the investigation may not be as thorough in hindsight," DerOhannesian said.
Dennis Duby pleaded not guilty to Second Degree Murder. Dezirae's mother was not connected to her death.
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