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'A Huge Step'

Gov. Pataki to sign 'Kieran's Law' allowing nanny background checks


Gov. George E. Pataki says he plans to sign "Kieran's Law" into effect because it's an important new protection for New York's families.

Peggy Leahy Dunne, who drafted the law with her husband, David, wants it on the books so that other families have a chance at avoiding the kind of horror that struck their home in Rye five years ago.

In March 1993, the Dunnes' 10-month-old son, Kieran, their first child, died after being thrown to the floor in a fit of rage by a 25-year-old nanny with a criminal record they were not allowed to see.

Kieran's Law was introduced in response to that tragedy.

It allows parents, with a prospective nanny's consent, to conduct a criminal background check with local and federal law enforcement agencies and tells them how to obtain driving, education and credit records. It also suggests that a statewide caregiver registry be established.

"Children are our most sacred and loved treasures," Pataki said, announcing the legislation he'll sign later this month. "When a parent entrusts the health and well-being of their child to a potential caregiver, they deserve to know if that individual has a criminal background."

Mrs. Dunne, who now has three other children, will be in Albany with her husband for the signing. She told CNY, "Nothing is foolproof. But this is a huge step for parents. It will at least give them valid information, and it will help them secure the safety of their children."

Next, says Mrs. Dunne, she plans to take her campaign national. "I just sent a package (of information) to Hillary Clinton," she said.

Speaking by telephone from London, where her husband, a Bear Stearns managing director, is currently based, Mrs. Dunne said one of the key things motivating her to research and draft the bill was that she didn't want her own daughter, now 4, to grow up in a world where "nothing had changed."

"Someday, hopefully, she'll be a mother too," she said.

Mrs. Dunne, 36, who grew up in Yonkers, attended St. Eugene's School there and the Ursuline School in New Rochelle. Her husband is a Rye native and graduate of Iona Preparatory School in New Rochelle.

"They were high school sweethearts," said Father Thomas F. Madden, spiritual director of the St. John Neumann Residence in the Bronx.

A family friend, he presided at the Dunnes' marriage in 1985 and the baptisms of Kieran and the children that followed: Mairead, 4, Ian, 2, and Aedan, 1. In March 1993, he offered the Funeral Mass for Kieran.

Mrs. Dunne had a history of miscarriages before giving birth to Kieran on May 3, 1992. "They were blessed with that baby," Father Madden said.

Sister Amadeus McKenna, a Blauvelt Dominican who is Mrs. Dunne's aunt, said, "He was a happy, happy baby--and I'm not just saying this because I'm the great-aunt."

She said the Dunnes, their parents and their extended family, herself included, will never be the same because of the tragedy.

"You never get over something like this," said Sister Amadeus, a sister of Peggy Ann Leahy, Mrs. Dunne's mother. Sister Amadeus, who was in parish ministry for many years, will become a guidance counselor at St. Raymond's High School in the Bronx in September.

Asked if she could ever forgive Ann Franklin, the nanny who caused Kieran's death, she said, "I leave that to God." She offered, however, that when the incident happened "it was the first time I met the work of the devil."

At the time Kieran was born the couple was living in David Dunne's parents home in Rye while searching for their own house in the community.

They were members of Resurrection parish. So was the perky, red-haired sitter with the "bubbly personality" whom they hired to care for their baby while both of them worked.

They were impressed by Ms. Franklin, a graduate of the former Resurrection Academy in Rye, in the two interviews they had with her, and they checked the reference--later found to be phony--that she provided. But their attempts to find out more about her failed.

Criminal records, they learned, were available only to law enforcement agencies. A local college from which she claimed to have graduated was not forthcoming.

Had they been successful, the Dunnes would have found evidence that the nanny they interviewed was a job-hopping college dropout with a troubled past.

Most glaringly, they would have learned of the bench warrant for her arrest issued when she missed a Rockland County court hearing on charges that she stole clothing from a Nanuet store where she once worked.

"We would never ever have hired her," said Mrs. Dunne, still incredulous that just one piece of readily available information could have drastically altered the incredible turn of events.

"She was a local girl. We went to the same church, she lived a mile away from us. She even went to school with my sister-in-law--but even with all that, there are so many things that you just don't know about a person," she said.

Ms. Franklin pleaded guilty in December 1993 to fatally injuring Kieran by throwing him violently to the bedroom floor on Feb. 25, 1993, after he tugged at her hair. He survived on life support until he died six days later.

The nanny is serving a sentence of 8to 25 years on first-degree manslaughter charges. In a strange coincidence, she has attended prison Masses celebrated by Father Madden during his once-a-month service at the Taconic Correctional Facility in Bedford Hills.

"I don't think she knows who I am," he said.

The Dunnes, meanwhile, no longer leave their children with sitters. "It's really hard, living in London, because our family isn't here," said Mrs. Dunne, adding that they expect to return to the New York area next summer.

And their children, she said, do not know that they have an older brother who died. "They know the name Kieran, that he's a member of our family, and they know he's in heaven with God," she said. But they're still too young to even understand the concept of heaven, she said.

"Someday we're going to have to explain all of this to them," she sighed. "That's the next really big hurdle."


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