DOUGLAS COUNTY, Colo. — Attorneys for a woman accused of murdering her “make-a-wish” daughter signaled Friday that her defense will focus on the conduct of doctors and other medical providers who cared for the girl in the years before her death.
And a lawyer representing the woman’s parents, two surviving children and former husband echoed those sentiments.
The 2017 death of Olivia Gant, a 7-year-old whose “bucket list” of final wishes evoked heart-touching news stories, was originally thought to be the result of multiple diseases.
But according to a grand jury indictment, Olivia’s mother, Kelly Turner, faked her medical issues and ultimately killed her.
Turner’s attorney, Ara Ohanian, is fighting to get all of Olivia’s medical records, including records of internal “peer review” documents where her case was discussed among those who treated her. Between 2014 and 2017, he said in court Friday, it was medical professionals who determined that Olivia’s treatment “was both reasonable and necessary.”
That included a decision to withdraw a feeding tube and to impose a “do not resuscitate” order.
Ohanian asked for the court to issue subpoenas to Denver Hospice and Children’s Hospital Colorado for those records during a hearing before Douglas County District Judge Patricia D. Herron.
"Your honor, this is truly the crux of our defense,” Ohanian said during the hearing.
Judge Herron ordered that the records be turned over to her for review and then she will decide which records should be turned over to the prosecution and the defense.
Turner, who remains behind bars without bail, arrived in court wearing a red-and-white striped jail uniform. She had been scheduled to be arraigned Friday, and enter a plea to the 13 separate charges she faces, but that was delayed until May 7.
After the hearing, attorney Hollynd Hoskins said she was glad the judge was going to review the records. She represents Turner’s other two daughters, her former husband, and her parents – people she repeatedly referred to as “the victims” while talking with reporters.
“The victims have grave concerns about what happened to Olivia and why medical professionals did not protect her,” Hoskins said.
Asked if she believed Turned was involved in Olivia’s death, Hoskins said the girl’s family is still searching for answers.
“Right now this is not about Kelly Turner,” she said.
It wasn’t until a year after Olivia’s death that Douglas County sheriff’s investigators began looking into the case, eventually securing a grand jury indictment. It accuses Turner, also known as Kelly Gant, of 13 separate counts – 11 of them felonies, including first-degree murder.
In addition, Turner is accused of defrauding the Medicaid system, two foundations that provide memorable experiences to terminally ill children, and hundreds of people who donated to her online fundraising page.
The indictment alleges that Turner, 41, defrauded the Medicaid system of more than $538,000. And it further alleges that she ripped off both a funeral home and a cemetery that handled the girl’s arrangements.
In addition, Turner faces a child abuse charge accusing her of endangering another daughter, who is now 11 years old. Turner claimed publicly the girl had cancer – something the girl’s medical records show was not true.
Although the indictment does not make clear the specific cause of Olivia’s death, it notes that Turner withdrew medical care and nourishment in the girl’s final weeks.
Olivia’s heart-tugging story played out on television stations and in newspapers in the Denver area and nationally – a sick little girl experiencing the thrill of riding in a police car and shooting water on a fire before succumbing to an untreatable mix of medical issues.
But the indictment paints a much more sinister picture: Multiple doctors who didn’t believe Olivia was terminally ill battling a mother who was so persuasive that she convinced one of the physicians to sign a “do not resuscitate” order and ultimately withdrew all of her daughter’s medical care – including what is known as Total Parenteral Nutrition, which provided nourishment through an intravenous line.
At the time, according to the indictment, Turner argued that Olivia was so sick, and her quality of life so poor, that the humane thing to do was to stop medical care and allow her to die.
Olivia died a few weeks later, on Aug. 20, 2017.
One of her multiple physicians, Dr. Robert Kramer, told investigators he was stunned by the turn of events.
“Dr. Kramer said that (Olivia) was not a terminal patient and was ‘shocked’ when he heard that Turner withdrew all medical care and (Olivia) passed away,” according to the affidavit.
Turner denied any wrongdoing when she was questioned by investigators from the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office.
But according to the indictment, as Turner was questioned, she mentioned a rare psychological disorder known as “Munchausen syndrome by proxy,” where parents or caregivers seek attention as a result of the illness of someone in their care. In extreme cases, parents or caregivers actually cause injuries or illnesses that later require medical attention.
According to the indictment, “Turner said, ‘That has never been my case, like at all, whatsoever. You can talk to anyone that stood by my side through … all of this.’”
The document noted that it was Turner who raised the subject, which had not been mentioned by either detectives or social workers present for the interview, according to the indictment.
The indictment, handed up last Thursday, follows a year-long Douglas County sheriff’s investigation and is a shocking turn in a case in which Olivia’s long battle with a host of medical conditions – autism, severe allergies, problems eating, unexplained pain, seizures, intestinal failure – and her sister’s supposed cancer battle were chronicled on a blog, on Facebook, and in news stories. Among those stories were ones that appeared on 9NEWS and on other Denver stations as well as on the nationally syndicated program Entertainment Tonight.
After Olivia died, her cause of death was attributed to intestinal failure.
But after investigators exhumed Olivia’s body in November 2018, a forensic pathologist found no evidence of intestinal failure or “many of the conditions” that Turner claimed Olivia had been diagnosed with, according to the indictment.
The pathologist, Dr. Kelly Lear, is Arapahoe County’s coroner. She ruled the manner of the girl’s death “undetermined.”
As far back as 2011, an online blog, apparently run by Turner, featured numerous posts about the terrible medical problems she said her two of her three daughters faced. At the time, Olivia was 13 months old; the other girl was 3.
At the time, the family was living in Texas.
The first entry on the blog appeared Aug. 2, 2011, and was titled, “Pray For Livi.” It spoke of Olivia having a misshapen head and a vascular malformation in her brain that could cause seizures, blindness or an aneurysm. Minutes later, a message was posted about the 3-year-old daughter, saying she had osteomyelitis, a bone infection, in her ear and an immune deficiency. The posts appear to have been written by Turner – in another one, she requested prayers for another daughter, then 11, that she not be neglected while her younger sisters battled their serious medical problems.
Over the next 14 months, there were numerous updates on the two girls, according to entries obtained by 9Wants to Know.
Olivia had an inoperable tumor pressing on her brain. Olivia had seizures. Olivia underwent radiation treatment. Olivia was diagnosed with celiac disease, an immune disorder that prevents people from being able to eat gluten. Olivia needed a shunt in the brain to drain excess fluid. Olivia had a thinning of the membrane between the lobes of her brain. Olivia was diagnosed with autism.
There were also multiple updates on Olivia’s sister, who 9NEWS is not naming because she is a juvenile. She had cancerous tumors around her pelvis and was being treated with oral chemotherapy. She had cancerous tumors in her neck that were surgically removed. She had unexplained leg pain. She had Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
All of that, according to the indictment, was not true.
Along the way, there were multiple fundraising efforts – an account at a Texas bank, a donation “button” on the blog’s web page, a GoFundMe site, a bake sale, a night for the Gant Girls at a Chick-fil-A. The most recent entry on the GoFundMe page showed more than $22,000 in donations.
There were posts on Facebook, and eventually series of news stories chronicling Olivia’s “bucket list” of last wishes.
Olivia was the “Bat Princess” for a day. Olivia was a Denver cop, riding in a patrol car and busting “bad guys.” Olivia spent a day as a firefighter, riding high into the air to spray water on a fire.
On the day that South Metro and Littleton firefighters made one of her dreams come true, Turner looked into a camera and described Olivia as a “ball of fire.”
“She’s in intestinal failure, and we don’t know how much longer she has,” Turner said in the story that was aired on 9NEWS. “And so we made a bucket list, and one of her things was to become a firefighter.”
Turner said she didn’t “have the words to describe how I feel. It’s just a bunch of ball of emotion.”
There were questions among several of her doctors at Children’s Hospital Colorado that something was wrong – at least five of them would tell investigators that they did not believe Olivia’s medical problems were terminal. One said he even doubted the original diagnosis that the girl had autism.
Dr. Kristen Park told investigators that she found no evidence that Olivia ever had seizures and told Turner three separate times to stop giving her daughter an anti-seizure medication that had serious side effects.
Dr. Thomas Walker told investigators that Olivia “did not exhibit the symptoms Turner described most of the time.” He described Olivia as “very active, interactive, social and fun to be around,” according to the affidavit. Dr. Jaime Belkind-Gerson described Olivia to investigators as “always smiling and playful.”
Dr. Robert Kramer described Olivia as “social and very talkative” and “did not diagnose” the girl “with any of the diseases that Turner wrote about in the GoFundMe page.” Kramer told investigators he was “shocked” when he learned that Turner had withdrawn medical care and that the girl had died, according to the affidavit.
But for more than a year, no one apparently questioned Olivia’s death. Then the reported illness of Olivia’s older sister sparked the investigation.
Kelly Renee Turner, also known as Kelly Gant, faces 13 separate charges in the 2017 death of her daughter, Olivia Gant, and the mistreatment of another daughter:
- Two counts of first-degree murder, one alleging she killed Olivia while in a position of trust, one alleging she killed the girl after deliberation.
- One count of child abuse, alleging that she permitted another daughter, who is now 11 years old, “to be unreasonably placed in a situation which posed a threat of injury.”
- Three counts of theft, one alleging she defrauded Medicaid and/or HealthFirst Colorado of an estimated $538,991.67; one alleging she used deception to obtain cash and services of $22,700 from GoFundMe, $11,264.88 from Make-a-Wish Foundation, and $3,000 from Professional Miracles Foundation; and one alleging that she stiffed Heflebower Funeral Home for $425 and Seven Stones Cemetery for $4,973.
- Three counts of charitable fraud, each alleging that she “devised or executed a scheme” to solicit money, property, or services “by means of a false or fraudulent pretense, representation, or promise …”
- Two counts of attempting to influence a public servant and two counts of forgery. The four charges are based on applications for benefits, including Medicaid, that Turner filed on July 31, 2013, and Nov. 4, 2013. The applications were rife with incorrect information, according to the affidavit. She claimed, for instance, that the father of Olivia and her sister was an “absent parent” and listed him as unemployed. In reality, Jeff Gant told detectives, he had a job that included health insurance that could have covered the kids and provided Turner $900 a week in living expenses. Jeff Gant told investigators that he stayed in Texas when Turner brought their kids to Colorado and that a short time later she asked that he remove the kids from his health insurance because she could buy it through Children’s Hospital Colorado at a lower rate, according to the affidavit. Bank records “corroborated Jeff’s account of his deposits and withdrawals,” according to the affidavit.
Contact 9NEWS reporter Kevin Vaughan with tips about this or any story: firstname.lastname@example.org or 303-871-1862.
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