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TAOS - Judge Patricia Joyce set a trial date Wednesday for a Taos woman accused of hitting and dropping a seven-month-old baby in her care in 2010, causing permanent damage.  The victim's family said it is hopeful this impending trial, set for Sept. 12, actually happens. Two previously-scheduled trials have been canceled over the past two years. 

Defendant Shelley Richter was babysitting infant Lane Schaefer on Aug. 19, 2010 around noon, when she claims she accidentally dropped the child at her day care--located at her home at 6018 Helias Dr. in Taos.  When the child grew limp in her arms, Richter said she called a neighbor to help, before calling 911 or the victim's family. 

Schaefer's aunt, Julie Schaefer, who also lives on Helias Drive, told KOMU 8 News when her sister-in-law arrived at Richter's house after the emergency call, she noticed her son was gasping for air.  The boy was transported by helicopter to University Hospital, where doctors confirmed the boy had suffered Shaken Baby Syndrome--an ailment impossible to have been caused by what Richter told Cole County Sheriff Greg White, who said Wednesday he could not comment on the current court proceedings.

Julie Schaefer said her nephew, who turned two years old in January, is permanently blind.  She said doctors have told the family he will never see again and also may have to have one of his eyes removed.  Developmentally, she said Lane Schaeffer has demonstrated motor skills characteristic of a nine-month-old.  He babbles, but cannot speak words.  He also has just learned to sit up, but has not learned to walk yet. 

The baby's aunt said the boy's parents take their only child to physical therapy every day at Capital Region Medical Center in Jefferson City, and the toddler also has regular visits to a neurologist in St. Louis for additional testing.

Richter has pleaded not-guilty to charges of felony child abuse and has maintained her story--that she tripped over another child she was babysitting and dropped Schaefer.  Richter also has said Lane Schaefer most likely had an undiagnosed disorder prior to being in her care. 

But, Julie Schaefer said Richter's story and assumptions are not accurate. She said her nephew had a well-respected doctor in Jefferson City who described the boy as healthy before the incident.  She also said she firmly believes the crime was not accidental, calling the boy's current condition proof that something happened involving Richter.

Richter's son Andrew said Wednesday that, although he could not answer specific questions about his mother, he did echo what many neighbors have said--that his mother is "a good person."  Richter's niece Ashley Smith, who lives next door, said Richter's attorneys have advised the family not to talk to the media. One neighbor, whose grandchildren Richter formerly babysat, said, "I feel sorry for her. She doesn't have a life right now."  Another said, "I think she's a nice lady, and I don't believe any of that."

Julie Schaefer said her nephew's parents also once trusted Richter, who had been caring for the boy since he was 10 weeks old.  "I think she's crazy and in denial," she said. "It's hard. You see her walking around." (Editor's note: Julie Schaefer's husband, Travis Schaefer, called the KOMU 8 newsroom after the interview with his wife to say Julie did not call Richter "crazy." The reporter's notes on the interview show the quote as written above).

Richter, as confirmed by her son, closed her day care immediately after the incident and since has obtained a job unrelated to child care. 

KOMU 8 News did make calls to prosecuting attorney Mark Richardson, but he did not return those calls.  Defense attorney Shane Farrow declined to comment after the trial date was established in the hearing Wednesday morning.

If the jury finds Richter guilty of child abuse and endangering the welfare of a child, Richter faces up to 15 years in prison.

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