It was their first child’s first morning of day care. Just before 11 a.m., the parents of 5-month-old Millie Lilliston received a comforting photo over their phones. There she was — out on a stroll with the day care owner.
“Great picture!” one of her parents texted back.
The next day came two photos from a park. “This is awesome,” was the response. “Thank you!”
The exchanges in March of last year captured the satisfaction that had quickly built with Kia Divband. After years in the day-care field, Divband, then 35, had recently opened Little Dreamers just blocks from the parents’ house in Rockville, Md.
The new operation was in the brightly lit, renovated basement of Divband’s home. That he was caring for only two children — Millie and his infant daughter — was appealing to Millie’s parents.
Eighteen months later, unimaginable events have since changed everything. In the basement, according to police and prosecutors, Divband battered and murdered Millie — accusations aired during a three-week trial in Montgomery County. She suffered more than 25 bone fractures, at least some of which occurred around the time Divband did Internet research about child bone fractures and how difficult they can be to detect.
“He beat her,” Assistant State’s Attorney Ryan Wechsler told jurors, “and beat her and beat her.”
Divband faces charges of child abuse, assault and murder.
Jurors began deliberations at 4:30 p.m. Friday and sent a handwritten note to the judge at 12:06 a.m. Saturday. “We do not have unanimous agreement on any charges,” it read.
An earlier jury note inquired about the difference between reasonable doubt and 100 percent certainty.
The jurors are due back to the Montgomery County Circuit Courthouse on Monday.
In their vigorous defense, Divband’s lawyers have said Millie probably had a fragile bone condition, possibly Rickets, that made her susceptible to accidental fractures. The morning of April 19, 2016, at day care, Millie was deeply congested and choked on the milk Divband was bottlefeeding her before her lips began to turn blue, Divband said.
“I put her on the ground and unzipped her hoodie,” Divband testified, his voice halting with emotion. Millie’s parents sat 25 feet away. “I put my ear to her chest to listen for anything, a heartbeat, a breath. I heard a heartbeat. So I started chest compressions, two finger compressions, 30 times.”
Divband said he raced upstairs with Millie, yelling to his wife to call 911. It was the chest compressions, and the ambulance ride, Divband’s attorneys asserted, that caused many of the child’s final injuries.
“He loves kids. He loves caring for kids,” one of his attorneys, Andrew Jezic, told jurors.
Prosecutors began their case Sept. 12 with testimony from Millie’s parents – Melanie Lilliston, 39, and Becky Williams, 38.
The women told jurors how their daughter appeared healthy when Williams dropped her at Divband’s day care at 8 a.m. They commuted to their jobs in Washington. About 10:45 a.m., Lilliston received a call from Divband’s wife, who said the parents should get to the hospital. Millie had choked and stopped breathing, but her heart was beating, and she was in an ambulance with Divband on the way to the hospital.
Lilliston described being led into a room where Millie was. She had bruises to her face.
“She was surrounded by probably 15 to 20 adults, you know, all in their scrubs,” Lilliston testified. “Lots of things on the floor, medical tape, all the things they discard. She was laying on a gurney, one of those adult-sized gurneys. And she was in her diaper. She had all kinds of wires and cords coming out of her.”
Williams arrived minutes later.
The doctors told them they thought Millie’s brain was bleeding and that she needed to be airlifted to Children’s National Medical Center in Washington.
Her mothers drove there, saw Millie being treated, and were asked to step into another room. The nurse and two doctors were kind but direct, Lilliston testified: “‘The Millie that you had this morning is most likely never going to be the Millie you know, if she survives this.’”
At about that same time, Divband had returned to his home where two detectives and a Child Protective Services arrived to ask general questions about his center, before getting more detailed.
“So, tell me about today. Start from the beginning,” a detective asked, according to a transcript of the recorded interview submitted as evidence.
Divband told them about Millie’s choking as he gave her milk, his efforts at CPR, his wife calling 911 to summon the ambulance. “At this point I’m sweating,” he said. “There’s sweat dripping on Millie. I’m trying to do everything.”
Divband had testified about growing up in Rockville and studying computer science in college while working at a gas station. He’d always liked being around his younger relatives, and took a job as a summer camp counselor, he said, eventually switching his college coursework.
“I felt that I could help children,” Divband testified.
Dr. Allison Jackson, a pediatrician and child-abuse expert, was among those who examined Millie as she worsened.
“My diagnosis was that Millie was a battered baby, a baby who had inflicted-injuries that were consistent with direct trauma to her head, her neck, her extremities,” Jackson told jurors. “She was a healthy baby before all of this.”
Millie’s parents were told the injuries were terminal.
“We invited all our family and friends who are local, and asked them if they would like to come and say goodbye,” Lilliston recalled for the jury. “We always joked that Millie had a posse that would follow her, this little tiny infant with five or six people who adored her. And she had more than that that came to say goodbye.”
At Millie’s autopsy, doctors took brain samples. A forensic anthropologist conducted a detailed study of some of the bones and counted 23 fractures to her ribs, two to her left arm and three to her legs. In the anthropologist’s findings, submitted as trial evidence, she wrote that some of the injuries occurred days or weeks before Millie died.
Boring in on that, Assistant State’s Attorney Ashley Inderfurth asked Divband about Internet research he’d conducted several days before Millie was hospitalized. Among the websites and searches: “Broken Bones in Children,” “Why are bone fractures in children sometimes hard to detect,” “Can you move your foot if your leg is broken.”
Divband testified that he was concerned after seeing swelling in Millie’s leg. He acknowledged not telling Millie’s parents about his research, even though he’d discussed with them conditions like a stuffy nose and a fever.
“To me, it wasn’t that an alarm went off and said her leg was broken,” he testified.
Inderfurth asked Divband why, if he thought Millie was choking, he didn’t try to clear the back of her mouth. Divband said he wasn’t wearing sanitary gloves.
And she had him recall again how Millie had vomited, before describing a photograph of him after the incident.
“Would you be surprised to learn there was no vomit on your shirt?” she asked.
“No,” Divband said.
“Oh, sorry, yes. I would be surprised. Sorry.”