‘Very unfair and very unjust’: Guilty plea comes 8 years after baby was hurt at day care

Jalene McClure
Jalene McClure

An 8-year-old case rife with legal complexities, including allegations of misconduct within the Centre County Courthouse, may have come to a close Tuesday with a guilty plea from a former Spring Township day care worker.

Jalene Eble — formerly known as Jalene McClure — pleaded guilty to endangering the welfare of a 5-month-old baby that was in her care in August 2010. The 43-year-old from Centre Hall also pleaded no contest to simple assault.

The child’s mother, after picking her daughter up from Jalene McClure Family Family Child Care Home in August 2010, noticed her baby was pale and unresponsive. A visit to Mount Nittany Medical Center resulted in treatment for a fractured skull, a subdural hematoma, brain cell damage, severe retinal hemorrhaging and gaze palsy.

“This takes violent shaking. This is all indicative of the shaken baby. The child was likely thrown against something or dropped,” a doctor from the children’s hospital at Geisinger Medical Center told Spring Township police.

Eble was ultimately convicted of one count of aggravated assault, two counts of endangering the welfare of children and one count of recklessly endangering another person in September 2014. She was sentenced to 10 to 20 years in prison one month later.

The case was far from over, however, as it kick-started the allegations of misconduct.

Eble was represented by now District Attorney Bernie Cantorna. The case was prosecuted by former District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller with former Judge Bradley Lunsford presiding.

Prior to Eble’s sentencing, Cantorna filed a motion requesting Lunsford recuse himself from the case because he said Lunsford and Parks Miller had a personal friendship that went outside the bounds of a professional courthouse relationship. Cantorna’s motion was eventually denied by Lunsford.

Judge Bradley P. Lunsford at his bench in the Courthouse Annex on December 27, 2006. CDT file photo

The case was then passed up to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, which vacated Eble’s sentence in August 2016 and granted her a new trial. The alleged ex parte communications between Parks Miller and Lunsford were included in her appeal, but were not the reason the case was remanded.

The communications were also part of an investigation by the Office of Disciplinary Counsel. Parks Miller and the ODC jointly stipulated that the ODC’s analysis “did not uncover text messages clearly relating to Commonwealth v. McClure during this investigation.”

Cantorna eventually withdrew himself as counsel in December — just weeks before he was sworn in to replace Parks Miller as district attorney. Attorney John Abom has represented Eble since Cantorna’s recusal.

The Office of the Attorney General accepted the case, which has since been prosecuted by Deputy Attorney General Rebecca Franz.

“This entire case has unfolded in a way that they (the child’s parents) see as very unfair and very unjust,” Franz told Williamson Tuesday. “I can’t say I disagree with them no matter which side you look at it from.”

Eble then told Williamson she was “very sorry” before receiving her sentence of nine to 23 months in jail — time she already served — and three years of probation.

Williamson said the remaining jail time would be “banked” should she be required to serve additional time as a result of a probation violation. Eble will not be permitted to operate a day care as a result of her plea.

While the criminal proceedings seemingly came to a close, the incident also prompted a civil lawsuit that was settled for $175,000 in 2015, most of which is to be utilized to fund an annuity for the benefit of the child.

The first payment is scheduled to be paid on July 1, 2028 and the final payment is scheduled for March 16, 2040.