By Shereen Siewert

WAUSAU — Trial dates have been set for an unlicensed Wausau daycare provider accused of intentionally abusing a toddler who allegedly suffered a brain injury while in her care.

Merisa Sell, 28, who operated Merisa’s Stepping Stones Daycare out of her Stark Street Home, was already investigated three times for suspected child abuse and had been fired from two other daycare facilities before the latest accusations surfaced. In June, prosecutors combined all charges against her into one case.

Sell will now face a single charge of child abuse-causing great bodily harm. The charge carries a maximum penalty of 40 years in the Wisconsin Prison System upon conviction. Circuit Judge LaMont Jacobson will hear motions in September, with a five-day jury trial set to begin Jan. 27.

The latest investigation began in August when Sell called 911 to report a 16-month-old girl she was caring for fell out of her high chair, choked on her food and was having trouble breathing. Sell cleared the girl’s airway before emergency crews arrived and the toddler’s mother opted to watch the girl at home rather than have her transported to the emergency room.

But the girl’s condition continued to deteriorate, prompting the child’s mother to take her to the hospital later in the evening. There, police say, doctors discovered the girl had bleeding on her brain. Doctors also discovered mouth injuries and other bruising indicative of potential physical abuse, police said. According to court documents, doctors suspected the child had been shaken.

As part of the investigation, police learned that Sell was involved in two other child abuse investigations at the same day care and did not tell parents she was running an unlicensed facility, according to court filings. In 2015, a 4-month-old boy in Sell’s care who had a seizure was also diagnosed with a brain injury, police said. Sell allegedly attributed the boy’s injuries to another child who she said shook the infant while the boy was sitting in a bouncy swing.

Then in 2017, a mother of a child in Sell’s care called police to report her son had bruising that looked like fingerprints on the child’s upper thigh. Sell was never charged in connection with either incident, though the 2015 case was initially referred to the Marathon County District Attorney’s office for potential charges. Prosecutors, however, found insufficient evidence to move forward with the case at that. time.

Sell, who admitted to police she had been fired from two Wausau daycare facilities, closed her in-home daycare in September. She is free on a $100,000 bond, the first $10,000 of which she paid in cash.