Shaken Baby Syndrome: Case Summaries 201 - 300
Please read the introductory information before Case Summaries 1 - 100.
I would very much appreciate you contacting me if you are involved in a case. I may or may not have seen news coverage about it. Only fatal cases are well covered in the news, and even then coverage may be incomplete.
0201: The father was alone with the son while the mother was at work. The mother did not observe anything wrong with the baby when she left. At 4:00 a.m., the father tried to give the baby a bottle, but the infant sounded “weird” and would not eat. “He shut his eyes.” At 4:40 a.m., the father called his wife and said the baby was not breathing right. When she arrived, the father was on the phone with emergency personnel. The first responder noted a small drop of blood around one of the child’s nostrils. The emergency room physician, unable to resuscitate the child, pronounced him dead at 5:52 a.m.
The doctor saw no external injuries, but did find bilateral retinal hemorrhages. The spinal fluid was bloody. On autopsy, an intracranial hemorrhage was found, and shaken baby syndrome was diagnosed. Older injuries were in the process of healing. Doctors determined that the most recent injuries were the cause of death.
During an interview with police, the defendant initially denied any knowledge of the cause of the injuries. He later said he tried to shake the child to awaken him. When confronted with autopsy results, the father admitted to “bouncing” the infant up and down on his knee, sometimes harder and faster, to sooth the child. On the day in question, he said he bounced the baby on his knee for 5-7 minutes while the bottle was heating. These were considered changing and conflicting stories.
The prosecutor commented: “He obviously did’t want to tell the police much of anything. That is another indication that we have that he knew what he did was wrong.”
The father was charged with first degree felony murder, with the underlying crime being child abuse. The father had no prior criminal history. The maximum sentence was death by lethal injection. Prosecutors did not seek the death penalty.
The trial was delayed because two attorneys withdrew. The first attorney accepted a job with the District Attorney’s office. This “appearance of impropriety” was contested on appeal but the appeals court ruled against the defendant. A plea bargain reducing the charge to involuntary manslaughter had been negotiated by the first attorney but was never finalized. At one point, the defendant said he would rather go to trial than plead guilty to something he did not do.
The second attorney withdrew and requested that a public defender be appointed. This was denied at first but later approved. A public defender was appointed. The defendant was convicted at trial and sentenced to life.
An appeal was unsuccessful.
0202: The 21-month-old baby was taken by ambulance to the hospital and found to have subdural and retinal bleeding as well as injured ribs.
The father, 39, in a videotaped police interview, said, “I shook her. I shook her. I got mad because it was getting close to one in the morning and she never stopped crying ... and I grabbed her. I said ‘if your mother was here this would’t be happening.’”
“The next thing you know she went limp. I thought I killed her.”
The defendant pleaded guilty to criminal negligence causing bodily harm and was sentenced to two years. He had a lengthy criminal record including assaults, thefts and breaching court orders, but the judge took into account the fact that the man has turned his life around, was working as a building superintendent and was exceptionally remorseful, as well as the “transient” nature of the baby’s injuries.
The child is expected to make a full recovery.
0203: According to the father, a 2-year-old daughter came to him in the laundry room and said “baby on the floor.” He thought she was referring to a baby doll, but when he checked, his 2-month-old son was on the floor. He had been lying on the couch with a bottle.
The baby was found face down on the floor. When the father picked the baby up, he was limp. He yelled for a neighbor and called 911. He started CPR and gave the phone to the neighbor. The baby’s sister had a habit of jumping on the couch and trying to pick up her little brother.
Doctors, who discovered cerebral and retinal hemorrhages, said the only possible cause was shaking by an adult. There were no marks, scars, or other evidence of abuse.
The father was required by child protection to move out of the house. He could not see the baby except under supervision, though he was allowed to see his older daughters. Nine months later, he filed with the family court to regain custody of his son. Two weeks before the hearing, criminal charges were filed against him for aggravated assault, endangering the welfare of a minor under the age of 16, and recklessly endangering another person.
He refused several plea bargain offers.
The defense witness had testified over 700 times, 90% of them for the prosecution. He was on a child abuse board with one of the chief prosecution witnesses.
The trial ended in a conviction and a 7.5-18 year sentence. The father can only talk the children every three days and see them every two months due to the distance between home and the prison. The visits must be non-contact, through a piece of glass, and are hard on the children as well as the father.
The defendant appealed on his own, without an attorney, and with the help of a medical expert had his sentence reduced to time served.
0204: The father, 24, called 911 and told dispatchers his 4-month-old son, a twin, was having trouble breathing. He said the baby had fallen off the couch. Doctors found swelling and bleeding around the brain, which they said could only be attributed to shaken baby syndrome. They found “heavy bleeding behind the eyes, a classic sign of a baby who was shaken severely. When they cleaned out that blood, they found more dried blood, evidence of a previous, untreated shaking.”
He was charged with first degree assault and released on $10,000 bond.
A few weeks later, doctors said they believed the baby was likely blind and possibly deaf. He showed little response to movement. When questioned by police, the father started crying. When the detective suggested he may have shaken the child without realizing it, he said “I guess that’s what happened.”
Those who knew the man were shocked at the allegations.
He pleaded guilty to second degree criminal abuse and was sentenced to five years, the maximum sentence for that crime.
0205: The mother, 25, told investigators her 2-year-old son fell at the park. But a CPS spokesman said, “The injuries that the child suffered were consistent with shaken baby syndrome and in the course of our investigation we have more information that seems to back that up.” The mother said the child had been sick with a fever, gagging, and in and out of naps. When he “rolled over and gasped for air” she called 911. Two months prior to his death, the child had had a first brain hemorrhage, accompanied by a fever. In that case, the mother claimed he had fallen in a clothing store.
Her other three children were removed from the home. None of them showed any sign of abuse, but the CPS spokesman said, “It’s not uncommon for us to find that one child in the family is targeted or a scapegoat for some reason and we still believe there might be risks to the other children in the family even if they weren’t abused or neglected.”
The mother was initially charged with capital murder, but charges were reduced when medical experts could not determine a cause of death. Bond was set at $250,000. The child had a hemorrhage and a two-inch tear in his brain. The autopsy showed an “abrasion” and a “faint contusion” near the child’s left eye, but there were no other signs of external injury. The report ruled out illness and other natural factors.
A special prosecutor in the case works for the Shaken Baby Alliance.
Jurors deliberated for about 8 hours before delivering a verdict of guilty. The mother was sentenced to 20 years for recklessly causing serious bodily injury.
The verdict was appealed unsuccessfully.
0206: The baby’s mother went to work, leaving her 4-month-old daughter in the care of her father, 27. When she returned about 11:00 a.m., the father told the mother he had just put the baby down for a nap and not to disturb her. She heard the child making strange noises, so went to check on her anyway. She found the baby with blue lips, one eye protruding and swollen, and the other eye rolled back in her head.
At the hospital, the doctor found bleeding around the brain and behind the eyes. He diagnosed shaken baby syndrome.
The father told police that he was on his back on a futon playing with the baby, lifting her rapidly up and down, when he noticed her go limp. He insisted he had not knowingly caused the injuries.
Subsequent to the charge of aggravated battery to a child, when he was free on $20,000 bail, he was charged in a domestic violence incident involving the baby’s mother. Then he was charged with criminal damage to property for damaging his jail cell.
At his first guilty plea hearing, he denied several times that he intended to hurt the baby, and the judge refused to accept his plea. Later, in a plea bargain, charges in the two cases were dismissed and he was sentenced to 10 years for aggravated battery to a child.
He subsequently attempted to withdraw his guilty plea but the trial court found his claim was frivolous and without merit. He appealed, saying the factual basis for his guilty plea was insufficient, the plea was not knowing and voluntary, the defense attorney had coerced him to plead guilty, and trial counsel was ineffective. The appellate court affirmed the trial court’s decision.
0207: A 4-week-old baby boy died of a subdural hemorrhage. His birth had been induced 2 weeks before the due date. His father, when being questioned by police, admitted he “gave him a shake” a week before he collapsed. He had been watching TV and the baby had been crying for about 10 minutes when he became “a little pissed off” and shook him up to three times. He then thought, “He’s too pure. I shouldn’t have done it.”
The baby showed no ill effects for a week. Around 3:00 a.m. on the day of his death, the father, 21, found him gasping and choking, with his eyes rolled back in his head. He was pronounced dead at the hospital less than an hour later.
Pathologists found a subdural hemorrhage that they said occurred within the previous 24 hours and evidence of a previous hemorrhage. There were no bruises or other marks. The baby’s maternal grandmother said he was a good father who thought the baby boy was “the best thing that ever happened to him.” He bathed and changed the baby, and was very proud of him. The baby’s mother said she trusted her husband completely, with everything and anything. The defendant did not testify on his own behalf, which the judge said was to his disadvantage because all the jury had to rely on was his comments to the police that the shaking was stupid.
When he was pronounced guilty of manslaughter after a few hours of jury deliberation, the mother sobbed and the father was stunned. He told the judge he had been wrongly accused and questioned the swift verdict.
The judge sentenced him to five years, with a minimum of two years in jail before possible parole. He said the incident was an aberration from a loving, caring father and that the sentence had to be balanced between just punishment for a life lost and the chance for him to support and raise his daughter. Family members had all spoken of the defendant’s gentleness and love for his children.
A year after his conviction, a Court of Appeals unanimously decided to overturn the conviction and enter a verdict of not guilty. They found there was not enough evidence for the jury to have reached a firm conclusion about how the baby died. “The absence of evidence as to the cause of [the baby’s] death cannot be converted into an inference that the applicant must have caused it,” one justice wrote. The defendant’s father said at his release, “It’s like someone has given him a new life.”
0208: The mother told police that she shook her 6-month-old baby as a last resort to revive him hours after he fell from the sofa onto the carpet and banged his head. His body had become stiff and straight and he began having convulsions before slipping into unconsciousness. His symptoms included brain hemorrhages and other injuries consistent with Shaken Baby Syndrome.
The child recovered fully but was removed from the home. His mother was charged with child cruelty.
Almost two years later, the mother went to trial on the criminal charge. A jury of six men and six women acquitted in less than two hours. A court order prevented identification of the child. A CPS director, asked whether the child will be returned to the mother in light of the not guilty verdict, responded, “We cannot comment on individual cases. However, it is important to be aware that children’s services have separate procedures to assess whether someone presents a risk to a child. If we don’t feel it’s safe for the child to go back to the family we would apply for a care order.
0209: The 5-week-old baby’s father, 36, said the twin boy was crying the entire way home from his grandmother’s house, especially while they were caught in heavy traffic. He thought the baby was “having a fit because he was hungry.” When they arrived home, the mother removed the baby from his carrier and left to buy food. When she left, the baby was still crying and fussing. The father said he put the baby on a half donut shaped pillow on the couch and went into the garage to smoke a cigarette. When he went back inside the house a few minutes later, the baby was making a loud snoring noise. He called the mother and 911, then started CPR.
The mother said the defendant was a good father and does not get frustrated with children.
According to police, the defendant eventually admitted to shaking the baby because he would not stop crying. The child suffered retinal and brain hemorrhaging. After his death a week after his collapse, his organs were harvested.
The public defender in the case criticized authorities for acting too hastily in charging the defendant with murder. Key medical reports had not yet been completed. The case ended with a plea bargain and a maximum sentence of 25 years to life.
0210: The father, 23, had been home alone with his 5-month-old son when he called paramedics about breathing problems. The father said that after a night of heavy drinking and about two hours of sleep, he started playing with his son by tossing him in the air. After one toss, he failed to catch the boy, and the infant fell to the floor.
Doctors determined that the injuries could only have been caused by violent shaking.
In a bench trial that lasted two weeks, a judge determined that the father had accidentally dropped the infant while tossing him in the air. He declared the defendant not guilty of aggravated abuse but convicted him of misdemeanor reckless conduct. It was the third time in a year that a defendant was acquitted of killing or seriously injuring a child in an alleged case of shaken baby syndrome. After three weeks of expert testimony, the judge said, “The bottom line in terms of medical evidence is that there is not agreement. Medical experts are all over the ballpark. ... I am not here to decide if shaken baby syndrome exists, but to rule on the evidence in this case.”
The sentence for the misdemeanor was six months in a jail work-release program, followed by two years’ probation. He was able to leave the jail during the day in order to work and support his other two children.
0211: The adoptive father, 31, was watching his 29-day-old premature twin daughter and her 3-year-old sister while his wife worked. They had brought the baby home just two weeks earlier. He was feeding the baby when he heard the other daughter stirring, so he put the baby on the floor and went to check on her sister. Something outside agitated the dogs, one of which was an Airedale that weighed about 90 pounds. The dog stepped on the baby’s throat.
The father was present the entire time. Everything happened within seconds. He called 911 and the baby was taken to the hospital. Police questioned the man and called it an accident. Later, however, doctors found signs of shaken baby syndrome. Police rejected the dog story and questioned the father again. His story changed. He said he had fallen with the child and shaken her. Police charged the father with murder. He was released on $100,000 bond, reduced from an initial $5 million.
The jury deliberated more than seven hours before rejecting prosecutors’ claims that a frustrated father killed his adoptive daughter by violently shaking her because she wouldn’t stop crying. As the jury deliberated, the defendant cried in the hallway while saying goodbye to his older daughter.
He was acquitted of first degree murder but convicted of a misdemeanor charge, reckless conduct. He was sentenced to three months in jail followed by six months of work release.
Said his attorney, “You have a man who had a history of being peaceful and loving. In the end, it’s just so out of character to believe he’s guilty of murder.” He told the jury that a not-guilty verdict would not indicate they were soft on crime, but tough on justice.
0212: The father, a 41-year-old wealthy businessman, testified that his 10-week-old baby girl choked on her milk and passed out in his arms. While the mother and several family members were downstairs for a big family luncheon, he had been feeding the baby upstairs. She “spluttered and some of the milk came out of her mouth in a fine spray. Almost instantly her eyes started to shut. I remember thinking she ‘cannot go to sleep’, so I took the bottle out of her mouth and she started to make a strange deep wheezing sound and I saw her eyeballs roll back into her head and she started to go limp.”
That very morning, the baby had been given a clean bill of health after having been in the hospital on an IV drip for several days.
The prosecution insisted, “He knew perfectly well he had banged her head, probably against the floor. Babies do not suddenly keel over with bruised scalps out of the blue.” The prosecutor said that if her head had been banged against a solid surface, she would have become immediately ill. Her color would have changed, she would have gone floppy, she would have vomited and she would have made abnormal noises. These things happened to her.
At the hospital, the girl was found to have 32 fractures. The prosecution alleged that these were old injuries. She died two days later. Her father was charged with murder.
Six weeks into the trial, the judge ordered the jury to find the defendant not guilty of murder, saying there was insufficient evidence to prove he had hurt the baby. “That someone had abused her is beyond doubt,” he said. “While the father is one of those who could have inflicted the injuries, there is absolutely no evidence that he did so. All the evidence is that he was a loving and caring father.”
The judge told the court, “It is not simply that there is a clash of opinion. There is a dispute, and a valid dispute, on almost every aspect of the medical evidence.”
The defense had argued that the girl suffered a spasm in her laryngeal muscles which could have sealed off her throat and stopped her breathing, something the judge said the prosecution failed to disprove.
Social services then pressed a trial in family court. The father lost and was not allowed to live with his family at home. The mother and children eventually moved to another country to escape the constant pressure. The mother remains convinced that her husband is innocent.
0213: Eleven days after the 10-month-old infant began coming to the defendant’s day-care program, he arrived warm, clammy and drooling, and was described by his mother as “clingy.” He had missed six of the 11 days due to illness. His medical conditions included sickle cell trait, external hydrocephalus, hemophilia, fever, dehydration and anemia.
Through most of the day, the baby seemed normal enough. The mother picked him up and left without saying anything. A few days later, the baby’s grandmother called and said he wouldn’t be coming back and she should call her insurance company. Shortly thereafter, police arrived. The sitter was charged with aggravated assault and battery, then first-degree murder when the child died 16 months later.
The sitter. 44, is about 5 feet tall and weighs 115 pounds. The defense argued that she was physically incapable of shaking the 25-pound baby as alleged, three or four times a second for maybe nine seconds.
The baby had fallen three days earlier and had a bump on his head. The defense argued that a previous injury rebled. The defense expert had not had the opportunity to review all pediatric records, which showed that the baby had a sickle-cell trait, a condition that could cause or contribute to the symptoms the baby showed. The child suffered recurrent bouts of anemia and fever in the months before his death.
A jury deliberated for six hours before convicting the sitter of first degree murder. She was sentenced to 32 years in prison.
She had repeatedly turned down plea bargain offers. “I was wrongfully convicted,” she maintained firmly.
“The medical evidence was overwhelming,” said the prosecutor. “The mother brought a healthy baby to the day care center and six hours later picked up a child who was in a coma.” The mother said that when she picked up the baby, he was in a deep sleep. When he didn’t wake up, she took him to the emergency room.
She filed a direct appeal, then a post-conviction petition, backed by the well-developed opinions of two physicians that preexisting conditions may not have become fully symptomatic until the day of the baby’s collapse. On her third appeal, ten years after the conviction, the conviction was affirmed but the case was remanded for a new evidentiary hearing.
0214: The mother left a 3-month-old daughter with her father, 33, while she went to work. The father, a professional golfer, said the baby napped that day for about an hour and awoke crying. He rocked her in his arms, vigorously, for about 20 seconds. The crying persisted and he dropped her into a “bubble chair” from a height of about a foot. Minutes later, she became unresponsive. Her face turned blue and she stopped breathing. She had recently been vaccinated.
Paramedics resuscitated the baby but she died a week later. There were no external bruises or other signs of injury.
She had been hospitalized twice in her short life with ailments including a blood clot between her skull and her brain, a condition she may have been born with. Three weeks prior to her collapse, she spent a few days in the hospital and a spinal tap showed blood. There was no follow-up on that.
Prior to the trial, the District Attorney’s office filed a complaint accusing the Coroner’s Office of obstructing justice in the trial by not allowing the prosecutor to discuss with pathologists what their testimony would be.
In a bench trial, the judge acquitted, saying the exact cause of death could not be determined.
The father said he held Children’s Hospital responsible for his daughter’s death and planned to file a lawsuit against it. He filed a petition to the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program.
0215: The father, 31, was alone with his 2-month-old daughter on the day she collapsed. He said he had awakened from a nap to find her not breathing. He took her to the hospital, where she arrived with no heartbeat, a bleeding brain, swelling, and “multi-layered” retinal bleeding. The death was ruled a homicide.
The father said she could have perhaps been injured when he fell backward on the stairs of the apartment while rushing her to the hospital. Scrapes were on his elbow, and four small bruises were on the baby’s face near her left eye. He was charged with second degree murder.
About 15 supporters attended the trial. The baby’s mother testified in his defense.
The judge refused the prosecutor’s request to allow the jury to consider manslaughter as a verdict.
“This is not about emotion,” the prosecutor said. “We’re not here to demonize. We’re not here to determine whether he is a good person, but what he did. We’re not saying he didn’t love his child. He acted in frustration that we all feel when we’re dealing with a newborn. It doesn’t take much.”
The jury acquitted after about 13 hours of deliberation, believing the injuries could have been accidental. They gave little credence to defense experts who questioned the theory of shaken baby syndrome.
0216: The father, 28, picked up the 15-month-old baby boy from his soon-to-be ex-wife’s boyfriend for a Christmas visit about 6:30 a.m. Late in the afternoon, they both took a nap. The father was awakened by his son’s vomiting. He took the child to her live-in boyfriend’s about 9:00 p.m. There, the mother’s new boyfriend noticed he was having problems. He called the mother and then 911. The baby was pronounced dead a few hours later.
Testimony in the trial revolved around timing. The prosecution alleged the baby was fatally injured before he was dropped off. The defense argued the baby was shaken by the mother’s boyfriend after he was dropped off. Prosecutors called two convicted felons, jailmates of the father, to testify that he told them he had shaken his son.
The defense expert told the jury that it was one of the worst shaken baby cases he had seen in 30 years. No child shaken so violently could have lived for more than two hours. The time line, he said, proved the defendant could not have killed the child. He would have been immediately unconscious. The boyfriend himself admitted the baby was conscious on the 911 call.
In a bench trial, the judge declared the defendant not guilty. The distraught mother had to be literally carried from the courtroom.
The father asked that the case to be reopened and the boyfriend charged instead.
0217: The 3-month-old baby’s mother left him with his father, 24, while she went to work. When she returned, her husband was standing inside with the door open. When he saw her, he shut the door. Several minutes passed. When the mother went inside, she found the baby lying on the floor, nonresponsive and limp. She took him immediately to the hospital.
The defendant said he had fallen from a couch.
The baby’s mother said several weeks prior, her husband had walked into the bedroom shaking the baby back and forth, laughing and commenting on the “neat sound” the baby’s head made. She said she grabbed the baby and yelled at him that his actions were dangerous.
A prosecution expert advised that there were several broken bones in the knees, metaphyseal fractures, which are unique to shaken baby syndrome. They are caused by the wild movement of limbs flailing about during a severe shaking, she said.
A jury found the defendant guilty after a week-long trial. The prosecution requested the maximum sentence of 30 years, saying it is “necessary to send a message to potential abusers that they will be prosecuted to the fullest extent.” The judge sentenced him to 20 years. The Court of Special Appeals affirmed the conviction.
0218: According to the babysitter, 25, the 3.5-month-old baby boy vomited and then became rigid while at her home. He was diagnosed with brain damage and retinal bleeding that left him blind and unable to speak, crawl, walk or feed himself. She admitted to “gently” shaking him in an attempt to rouse him before calling an ambulance. Doctors claimed the child had been shaken so violently that 75% of his brain was damage and the injury was not inflicted accidentally.
Her daycare registration was revoked shortly after the baby was hospitalized. The baby’s parents, educators, criticized local authorities for not bringing charges. Eventually, the case went to the state Attorney General for review. Ten months after the baby’s collapse, a grand jury indicted the sitter for endangering the welfare of a child, a misdemeanor. A defense expert offered an opinion that the injury may date from birth. The sitter testified that she did shake the boy gently according to the “Shake and Shout” CPR procedure she had learned.
A standing-room-only crowd was in court for the sentencing hearing. The baby’s mother said, “You almost killed my son, that can’t be sugar-coated.” She then turned to show the sitter’s many supporters large photographs of the child before and after the incident. “There’s no winners here,” said the mother after the hearing. “She gets to spend a little time in jail. My son gets to spend a life sentence.”
The judge sentenced her to a year in jail after her conviction, the maximum. She was released after six months in jail. The baby’s father was enraged that he was not informed of the conditional release.
0219: The father, 24, was watching his 6-week-old daughter on the first day her mother went back to work after maternity leave. He said he fed the baby at 2:15 p.m. She was asleep by 2:35 p.m. and he told the baby’s mother at 3:30 p.m. that everything was fine. Shortly thereafter, he noticed her gasping for air. He attempted to revive her and then called the mother, who called 911. Paramedics revived her but she was pronounced brain dead four days later.
The defense raised the possibility that West Nile virus, which had recently broken out in the city, might have played a part in her death.
The case was based primarily on medical evidence and interpretations by medical experts. The girl had hundreds of retinal hemorrhages, injuries to the spinal cord and kidney, and bleeding on the brain. Emergency medical workers said there were finger marks across her chest where she had been grabbed.
There was testimony that the defendant was a loving father.
A jury convicted the father of manslaughter. He dropped his head, shaking it from side to side in disbelief when the verdict was read. At sentencing, he said, “I would like the court to know I didn’t commit this crime.” He was sentenced to 12 years.
The judge called it an “unspeakably demented crime” and said, “This is a tragedy. The blood of an innocent baby is on your hands. That stain will never fade.”
0220: A 4-month-old girl was alone with her father, 21. He told the paramedic that he was feeding the girl when she went limp and stopped breathing. He contacted a neighbor who attempted to perform CPR. The baby suffered from central apnea and the neighbor had heard a nurse explain that when she stopped breathing they should “kind of shake her a little bit so you could get her attention.” Later, he admitted that he earlier dropped her about five feet onto a carpeted floor, then shook her slightly to get her to breathe.
The baby had severe retinal hemorrhages that the prosecution expert said could not be caused by a fall. She had a skull fracture and the forensic pathologist said that is rare in such a young child because the infant’s skull bones are flexible. Other symptoms were a subdural hematoma and severe brain swelling.
A jury acquitted him of first degree murder, but convicted him of aggravated battery to a child and involuntary manslaughter. The judge vacated those convictions because they indicate different states of mind, recklessness for manslaughter and knowledge for aggravated battery. He ordered a new trial and refused to dismiss the defense’s motion to dismiss aggravated battery, made on the basis that the jury had previously determined the girl’s injuries were not inflicted knowingly.
At a second trial, he was convicted of aggravated battery of a child and sentenced to 18 years in prison. An appeal was unsuccessful.
0221: The father, a 23-year-old Marine, denied killing his 2-month-old son. He had been arrested after his son was diagnosed with severe head injuries. He spent 18 months in jail awaiting trial. The first trial resulted in a hung jury, with 11 voting for guilt. At the second trial, tempers flared between the judge and the public defender after the attorney requested that a mistrial be declared because the judge had purposely interrupted her closing arguments five times and limited the amount of time she had to speak to the jury. He told her she was incompetent and should look for another line of work.
A mistrial was not declared. The jury acquitted, saying it was not the medical testimony from seven doctors that made the difference. “It was his character,” one juror said. “I just didn’t believe he could have harmed his child.” It was an opinion shared by the mother and other supporters.
0222: The father, 23, was caring for the baby and two siblings while his wife worked. he became unresponsive and 911 was called. Emergency responders determined that the boy’s pulse was strong, but he was not breathing and his pupils were fixed and dilated. He died two days later.
The father told firefighters that the baby had fallen off a play slide in the backyard earlier that day, while in the care of his wife. What led to the emergency call later that afternoon was the baby could not be awakened from his nap.
Upon further questioning, the father said he had been alone with the children all day. He had left the children playing in the backyard briefly and returned to find the baby had fallen off the slide. He said he had lied earlier because he had outstanding arrest warrants. The medical examiner opined that the injuries were non-accidental. The defense expert said there could be innocent explanations for all injuries.
The father was charged with felony murder. The jury found him guilty of involuntary manslaughter and cruelty to children in the first degree.
His request for an appeal based on the fact that evidence was entirely circumstantial was not granted, His statements to police were considered directly incriminating.
0223: The father, 38, was charged with intentional child abuse resulting in death after his 4-month-old son was found to have hemorrhaging in his brain and a bruise on the front of his skull. Defense experts said there was no conclusive evidence that the death was caused by trauma. There was a prior brain injury, perhaps caused by a fall from a couch, from another child dropping the baby, or from a fall out of a swing.
A jury found him guilty of the lesser offense of negligent child abuse and he was sentenced to time served, 236 days.
0224: The defendant had been convicted two years earlier of shaking another 2-month-old son and had served six years in prison for that as well as an unrelated kidnapping and attempted sexual assault of a 10-year-old girl.
“I was hoping he would stay in prison forever,” said the baby’s grandmother.
The father brought his 3-month-old son to the hospital, saying he was limp and not breathing. He died 21 days later with symptoms doctors attributed to shaken baby syndrome.
He initially denied any wrongdoing, but later allegedly confessed to a cellmate, saying the baby was crying in the car and he pulled over and shook the car seat up and down. He told the baby’s mother he had dropped the car seat.
He plea bargained to second degree murder and was sentenced to 30 years to life.
0225: The jury deliberated for about four hours before convicting the father, 25, of a lesser included second degree felony. They had to decide whether he intentionally and knowingly, recklessly, or with criminal negligence caused serious bodily injury or serious mental deficiency, impairment, or injury to his child by act (shaking or causing him to strike a blunt object) or by omission (leaving the child without adult supervision after he assumed custody, care, or control of the victim).
They found he had caused the injuries recklessly using a deadly weapon, his hands, arms or a blunt object. He was sentenced to 18 years and assessed a $10,000 fine.
The prosecutor propped up two enlarged photos during closing arguments, one of the baby sitting up against a pillow and another of him in the hospital, covered in wires and tubes, his head bandaged.
The defense attorney, who had argued that the injuries could have been caused by a 9-year-old brother, waived his closing argument.
0226: The 7-month-old girl had been born prematurely, weighing only one pound eleven ounces. On the day of her collapse, her father, 32, said “I heard that she stopped crying and went to check on her to make sure she was OK. That’s when I found she was face down and wasn’t breathing.” He was the only adult at home at the time. A 12-year-old boy had spent the night with the family said the baby cried for about 10 minutes after the father left her room. The medical examiner said that she was shaken so severely that she’d have been immediately unconscious.
The chief medical examiner, with 18 years tenure in the position, ruled the death a homicide. She said there were hemorrhages in the brain as well as retinal hemorrhages, although four pathologists later found no evidence of either. She also listed the child as a boy rather than a girl.
A detective who interviewed the father didn’t believe the charges, even after he failed a lie detector test and admitted shaking her gently to revive. He requested a second medical opinion, an action that displeased the prosecutor and the medical examiner. “I made sure the state attorney knew there were problems with the case,” he said. The father was by all accounts a gentle, loving father. He had no history of abuse.
Prosecutors charged the father with first-degree murder. He lost his job and had to file for bankruptcy.
The medical examiner, who retired after the collapse of another high profile case, skipped a deposition about this case, citing illness. She wouldn’t accept service on a subpoena delivered to her home. The defense attempted to force her to testify, saying, “One of the main pushes to prosecute the father was from the Medical Examiner’s Office. ... For them to push for someone to be changed with first-degree murder and then not to be able to testify, it’s grossly unfair.” She went missing and the court approved $3,000 in public funds to hire a private investigator to find her, without success.
Her replacement and three other pathologists examined the evidence and determined the little girl died of bronchial pneumonia. There was no explanation for why the first pathologist missed the pneumonia, which the others said was present in every part of the baby’s lungs.
Four years after the baby died, first degree murder charges were dropped. The defendant had spent 49 days in jail. His attorneys then attempted to get the charge completely off his record and sued the medical examiner for negligence. Damages are capped by the state at $100,000.
“This is not someone who got off on a technicality,” said his attorney. “This is a person who did nothing wrong and had his life ruined.”
In an interview two years later, the original medical examiner said she still believed the baby had been fatally shaken.
The defense attorney later commented, “I would be willing to bet that there are more cases out there, that this is just the tip of the iceberg.”
The defendant, a deacon in his church, said, “I am so thankful for my freedom. And I’m thankful that I have family and friends and God behind me. God is a big part of it. I drew strength from Him.” His wife said, “Love got us through this. People believed in him.”
0227: The father, 32, was alone with his 11-month-old baby girl when she became unresponsive. He called for an ambulance. Emergency personnel noticed bruising around the eyes and recognized possible head injury. Doctors found bleeding and swelling in the brain, and blood behind the retinas of the eyes. The father, who through a Spanish interpreter denied he harmed the child, was arrested and held on a million dollars bail.
The defense expert said the baby would have suffered a neck injury, and none was found. He also maintained that it had not been proved that abusive shaking causes retinal hemorrhage. Defense attorneys suggested the possibility that Reyes’ Syndrome had played a part in her death, but a prosecution expert testified that her transplanted liver showed no signs of disease.
The mother testified that her husband was a loving father and was never physically or verbally abusive to her or the child.
In a dramatic turn of events, the coroner returned to the witness stand several days into the trial and said that he had reviewed the case and concluded there was an outside possibility there were other explanations for the child’s death. He felt ethically obliged to tell the attorneys on both sides of his new opinion.
After 45 minutes of deliberation, the jury delivered a “not guilty” verdict. The father, an illegal immigrant from Mexico, was kept in jail pending a deportation hearing.
“It was all reasonable doubt,” said the presiding jury. “We just didn’t feel we could say he was guilty.” The coroner’s changed testimony, from certainty to doubt, was a big factor. The coroner said, “We have some cases where we just don’t know.”
0228: A 14-month-old baby boy was with a sitter and relative, 37. She found the boy crumpled beside a bed and tried to resuscitate him. A medical examiner ruled that the injuries were inconsistent with a fall but consistent with shaking. After the baby sitter was confronted with the autopsy report, she admitted shaking the boy in an effort to resuscitate him. She denied shaking him hard, striking or abusing him.
The boy died on an operating table. The defense was expected to argue that he suffered his injuries while in the care of medical personnel.
A plea agreement was made in advance of charges being filed. The sitter pleaded guilty to third degree child homicide and was sentenced to 30 days in jail, 60 days in a work-release program and 6 months in home confinement.
The district attorney, a relative of the defendant, described her as “a model mother and citizen.” The judge said he had never received so many letters of support prior to a sentencing. He told the defendant, “It seems all I can read about you, you have lived an exemplary life. But the fact remains a child in your care died.”
The baby’s parents submitted a letter asking that she be allowed to return to her husband and four children. “We urge you to grant us mercy,” they wrote, “by granting her mercy. By so doing, we will be able to gain much needed closure.” The defendant and more than 30 supporters wept at these words.
After the sentencing, residents in the small community launched a petition drive in an attempt to gather 5,000 signatures asking the governor to pardon the woman. One resident said, “99 to 100%” of the community believed the baby’s death was an accident. “We’re afraid if an accident happens on our watch, we could end up in jail, too.”
“I’ve known her all my life. She’s a good woman and I’d have her watch my kids anytime,” said a neighbor.
The medical examiner was certain of his findings of abuse. “The baby was in his normal state of health prior to arriving at [the sitter’s] residence. While in the care of only one adult did his state of well-being degenerate from a normal healthy baby to an unresponsive and limp child.”
0229: The mother, 25, pleaded guilty to assaulting her 2-year-old child while she was homeless and fleeing the child’s father. She said she lost her temper with the baby while they were camped in a tent. She shook him and struck him around the head and body.
Only when the infant fell into a semi-conscious state days later did she seek medical help. She initially told police she had accidentally dropped the child. He had injuries on his arms, legs and around his body consistent with being hit, punched or kicked.
The assault left the baby with epilepsy, poor balance, and diabetes. He is at risk of developing cortical blindness and cerebral palsy.
The mother wept in court and accepted full responsibility for her actions.
0230: The mother, 22, called 911 to report that her 8-month-old daughter had had a seizure and was having difficulty breathing. She had fallen off a chair onto a cement floor at church not long before. Medics determined she had an injury to her head which did not appear accidental. The baby died two days later.
Police investigated for several weeks in an attempt to eliminate suspects who had been in contact with the baby. The mother-in-law said she had never seen her daughter-in-law act violently toward either of her children. A 2-year-old brother was removed from the home by children’s services and placed with an aunt. Another son died of SIDS a year after the little girl died. The mother was not in the home at the time.
The charge was second-degree murder and she was held in lieu of $100,000 cash.
The week before the trial was to begin, the defendant plea bargained to a charge of manslaughter, admitting that she became frustrated and slammed the baby’s head on the ground. “In a moment of frustration and grave loss of control the world changed in an impulsive instant. I hurt my baby and she died. Knowing that my recklessness contributed to her death fills me with a grief that words cannot express,” she said. She said she didn’t realize how fragile the child was.
The judge sentenced her to 10 years with five suspended, plus seven years of probation.
0231: When the baby was just 12 days old, he was removed from his home when doctors discovered broken bones. An abuser was not identified. For the next eight months, the baby remained in county care. During an unsupervised Christmas visit with his family, the baby died, apparently of shaken baby syndrome. His father, 26, was charged with murder. He had no prior criminal record. A social worker had described the father as withdrawn.
There were problems in the parents’ relationship and the mother had hid the pregnancy from the father as long as possible. The delivery was difficult and the baby had jaundice. A four inch fracture in the baby’s skull was attributed by the defense to a fall onto concrete.
After the death, social services came under heavy criticism for their handling of the case. A judge took personal responsibility because she gave an order which allowed social workers discretion to allow unsupervised visits with the parents. She was strongly critical of a caseworker who allowed the unsupervised Christmas visit despite the fact that the child had sustained injuries during two previous unsupervised visits. The death led to widespread reforms in the child protection system, including opening the system and hearings to public scrutiny.
At trial, the defense maintained that the baby died as a result of a fall from a sofa onto a concrete floor. The prosecutor said, “This was no negligent homicide. This was a reckless death performed by a man who could not control himself. This was murder as sure as if he had used a knife or gun.”
The father was convicted and sentenced to 32 years to life. An appeal was unsuccessful. His wife was deemed an unfit mother and their daughter was put up for adoption.
0232: The babysitter, 29, was convicted of second degree murder in the death of a 2.5-year-old child he had been watching for a friend of the family. He maintained that the baby’s death was an accident caused when the boy fell off the back of a couch and struck his head on a brick fireplace. Detectives also believed the child’s death was an accident, but doctors called it a homicide, even prior to the autopsy.
The baby had a bleeding disorder, which jurors never heard about. He had been been bleeding internally for 2 months prior to the fall. He had been seen frequently for vomiting, bruising, distended stomach and clotting problems Prosecution experts insisted the bleeding problem had nothing to do with the baby’s death. The defense did not call any experts. The defendant was convicted and sentenced to 15 years to life.
The baby’s mother was completely convinced of the sitter’s innocence, and spent the next 21 years of her life trying to free him from prison. He could have been freed years earlier had he admitted guilt, but he continued to insist he was innocent.
Eventually, a defense attorney took on the case, a medical expert reviewed the records, and a new district attorney said new evidence cast reasonable doubt on his conviction. A judge granted him a new trial. He was released and subsequently married the child’s mother who had worked so hard to free him.
“I can’t believe this is happening,” he said. “I’m afraid to fall asleep tonight for fear I will wake up and still be in a prison cell somewhere.”
“I tried never to let the legal system beat me down,” he said. “The system we have is a good, just system; it’s just that some people operating it made what happened to me possible. I will never forgive some of those people for what they did to me.”
“I learned how strong a family can be,” he said. “I learned to never give up hope. And I learned to never take anything for granted.”
Following his release from prison, his lawyers worked to prove his innocence by a preponderance of the evidence. A judge ruled they showed that it was probable the defendant did not kill the child. Under a new state law that granted $100 per day for prisoners who could prove they were wrongly convicted, he collected $756,000 in compensation for the 21 years and was issued a formal apology. He said he’d exchange the money for the 21 years if it were possible. He also filed a civil suit for $50 million against the coroner’s investigator and doctors, claiming a conspiracy to cover up medical malpractice that contributed to the baby’s death.
He was interviewed on Larry King live in 2004, along with his new wife, the child’s mother.
0233: The baby, a 2-year-old boy, was at the home of a babysitter, 36. The child was taken to the hospital and treated for serious brain damage and retinal hemorrhaging. His injuries were attributed by doctors to shaken baby syndrome. The child survived but was not expected to fully recover.
The sitter told authorities she did shake the child slightly in an attempt to wake him, but not enough to cause any injuries.
The defense attorney argued that the baby had preexisting brain problems including a cyst inside the head. The child had a larger than normal head that made him more susceptible to brain injury, he claimed.
The jury deliberated for about two hours before rendering a verdict of “not guilty.”
0234: The father, 36, was alone with his 5-month-old daughter. He said he tried to feed her around 2:00 p.m., then put her down for a nap and fell asleep himself. When he awoke about an hour later, he noticed something was wrong with the baby. When he lifted her arm, it dropped lifelessly down on the bed. He called 911 to report that his she had stopped breathing. She died in the hospital with a subdural hematoma and retinal hemorrhages, which doctors said could only be caused by violent shaking. The child had been to the emergency room twice before in recent days.
The father was arrested and later found guilty of criminally negligent homicide by a judge in a bench trial. His sentence was 33 months.
The defense, for the first time in the area, attempted to discredit the entire concept of shaken baby syndrome, proposing that a combination of venus thrombosis and the baby’s prior ill health played a part in her death. The defendant never wavered from his claim of innocence. His wife believed he was guilty, but many friends and supporters did not.
“The science behind shaken baby syndrome is not 100% correct,” insisted the attorney. The exact force or number of shakes needed to cause harm has not yet been determined.
Nine medical experts testified. The greatest number of experts the judge had seen in a previous trial was four. Although the judge found the prosecution experts more convincing, he said they could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the man shook his child with reckless disregard for her life, so he acquitted on the charge of murder and convicted on the least serious included charge.
The trial sparked such interest among attorneys in the area that the judge and district attorney gave a seminar for the bar association on the legal issues surrounding shaken baby syndrome. “No one ever said shaking a kid is a good thing,” said the judge, “but I’ve learned that this is something you can’t rush to judgment or diagnose.”
0235: The father, 36, was alone with his 5-month-old daughter. He said he tried to feed her around 2:00 p.m., then put her down for a nap and fell asleep himself. When he awoke about an hour later, he noticed something was wrong with the baby. When he lifted her arm, it dropped lifelessly down on the bed. He called 911 to report that his she had stopped breathing. She died in the hospital with a subdural hematoma and retinal hemorrhages, which doctors said could only be caused by violent shaking. The child had been to the emergency room twice before in recent days.
The father was arrested and later found guilty of criminally negligent homicide by a judge in a bench trial. His sentence was 33 months.
The defense, for the first time in the area, attempted to discredit the entire concept of shaken baby syndrome, proposing that a combination of venus thrombosis and the baby’s prior ill health played a part in her death. The defendant never wavered from his claim of innocence. His wife believed he was guilty, but many friends and supporters did not.
“The science behind shaken baby syndrome is not 100% correct,” insisted the attorney. The exact force or number of shakes needed to cause harm has not yet been determined.
Nine medical experts testified. The greatest number of experts the judge had seen in a previous trial was four. Although the judge found the prosecution experts more convincing, he said they could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the man shook his child with reckless disregard for her life, so he acquitted on the charge of murder and convicted on the least serious included charge.
The trial sparked such interest among attorneys in the area that the judge and district attorney gave a seminar for the bar association on the legal issues surrounding shaken baby syndrome. “No one ever said shaking a kid is a good thing,” said the judge, “but I’ve learned that this is something you can’t rush to judgment or diagnose.”
0236: The defendant’s 3-month-old son suddenly collapsed while in his care. He had agreed to watch the baby while his ex-wife was at work. Earlier that day, the baby had gotten a clean bill of health from his pediatrician. The father told investigators that when the baby awoke from a nap, he was limp and appeared to have had a seizure. He said he sprinkled water on the baby’s face and shook him to rouse him.
There were no bruises, broken bones, or other signs of abuse.
The father was charged with “excessively and violently shaking” his son. But a judge, in what experts said was the first such ruling in the nation, barred the prosecution from introducing expert testimony that the baby was injured by shaking, unless there was other evidence of abuse.
“To allow a physician to diagnose shaken baby syndrome with ... no other evidence of manifest injuries is to allow a physician to diagnose a legal conclusion,” the judge said. The judge said the diagnosis was not scientifically proven and there was doubt, according to biomechanical studies, that an adult could shake a child hard enough to cause the injuries. College football players shaking lifelike models of 1-month-old babies could not generate the necessary force. Detractors say the models were not lifelike enough to produce valid results. The judge also said that a correlation does not prove cause and effect: Hemorrhages behind the eyes don’t prove that a child was shaken.
According to a pediatrics professor, shaken baby syndrome is the only rational explanation for massive brain injuries found in helpless infants and young children. “Kid’s heads don’t explode simultaneously,” she said.
The final outcome of this case is not known.
0237: A jury convicted the defendant of first degree murder for knowingly killing a 2-month-old girl in his care. The mother had left to run a quick errand and returned to find her baby being carried to an ambulance. He had first attributed her injuries to a minor head wound that had occurred 10 days earlier. Later, under police questioning, he admitted to shaking her hard. His demonstration with a doll showed only light shaking, however.
The baby was found to have subarachnoid bleeding, a subdural hematoma, and bilateral retinal hemorrhages.
At trial, the prosecution argued that the defendant used such massive and violent force that he was practically certain his conduct would cause the child’s death. They demonstrated for the jury what kind of shaking they believe happened.
A court of appeals reversed the conviction and ordered a new trial. It unanimously found that key expert witness testimony should have been excluded because it was irrelevant or prejudicial. The testimony concerned speculation as to how much force would have been required to cause the subdural hematoma and maintained that it would be equivalent to a fall from several stories or a high-speed auto accident. The expert said that subdural hematomas rarely occur and do so only in limited situations: a fall from a tall building; a high-speed motor vehicle accident either as a pedestrian or where the baby is unrestrained; or when a baby is violently shaken or violently shaken and slammed.
The court of appeals found that through use of extreme accident scenarios, the prosecution had ignored the undistributed middle:
(1) Some children who suffer subdural hematomas have been subjected to trauma or force such as that sustained by a fall from a multistory building or being unrestrained in a high-speed automobile accident.
(2) This child sustained a subdural hematoma.
(3) Therefore, this child was subjected to trauma or force equal to or exceeding that caused by a fall from a multistory building or being unrestrained in a high-speed automobile accident.
“It is one thing clearly to state that a certain quantum of force is necessary to produce a subdural hematoma; it is quite another to use examples of obviously extreme force and violence that have been demonstrated to have caused subdural hematomas and then suggest that they constitute the minimum force necessary to cause such an injury in any particular case,” said the court.
Prosecutors appealed to the state Supreme Court, which reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals.
0238: The mother’s boyfriend, 32, called 911 to report that the 14-month-old girl was “dying right now.” Doctors found multiple bruises and a fractured wrist. The mother said her baby had fallen in the bathtub the day before and that her siblings, 3 and 10, caused the injuries. There was bleeding in the baby’s brain and she died two days later.
The woman had fled an abusive husband in Costa Rica with her three children.
The baby seemed all right after the bathtub incident, but the next morning had seizures. Fourteen months after the incident, both the mother and her boyfriend were arrested. Charges against him were later dropped.
The mother was reputed to be a caring parent with no prior history of abuse. Defense lawyers argued that although the bathtub fall may have happened, it couldn’t account for all of the injuries. He said the jury was “faced with a mystery” and as it couldn’t be solved, the mother was entitled to be acquitted.
The jury deliberated less than eight hours before delivering a “not guilty” verdict.
0239: The baby sitter, a 30-year-old Bulgarian immigrant, pleaded guilty to allegations that she violently shook an infant in her care, leaving the girl with severe injuries. She plea bargained and was sentenced to 6 months and a $2,000 fine for aggravated battery. In addition, she is required to serve two years probation, undergo psychological counseling, and write a letter of apology to the girl’s parents. She is also barred from caring for children for two years.
The parents were satisfied with the outcome. “Obviously, they could have thrown her in prison for five or six years, but that’s not going to help her,” the mother said. “That’s why probation and psychological counseling is so important.”
The judge said that the parent’s approval and the child’s apparent full recovery were important in his decision to approve the plea deal.
0240: The 51-year-old baby sitter pleaded guilty to second degree manslaughter in the case of a 11-month-old baby boy she had cared for. Although suspicions were initially focused on the parents, they were cleared when the baby sitter confessed to shaking the child in a moment of frustration. The baby’s father was an attorney. The parents had found her through an ad in a local paper, checked her references, and heard only unqualified praise. “She seemed very gentle, and the baby took to her right away.”
At the sentencing, the parents played a 12-minute video of the baby and made an emotional plea for the sitter to be sent to prison. He blamed the sitter for not promptly notifying medical authorities of what she had done.
The judge said he had received 40 or 50 letters, that he had read them all, and that he had to make a hard decision. He sentenced the sitter to 3 1/3 to ten years in prison.
0241: The police sergeant said “interviews and medical evidence” led them to charge the mother’s boyfriend, 26, with first degree murder after the child was brought to the hospital in an unresponsive state. When medical personnel realized the severity of the 17-month-old boy’s injuries, they had him airlifted to a regional hospital. Weather forced the helicopter to land at a nearer hospital from which he continued by ambulance.
The medical examiner concluded that the death was a homicide. Another expert reviewed the autopsy and ruled the death to be fatal adult-induced non-accidental trauma.
The charge was first-degree murder and child abuse. He pleaded not guilty and bond was set at $250,000. In his state, murder is punishable by life in prison, natural life in prison, or the death penalty.
Two years later, all charges were dropped. The prosecutor said he still believed the man was responsible for the death but did not feel he could prevail at trial because of the inability of medical experts to pinpoint the time of the fatal head injury, which allowed the defense to suggest someone other than the defendant could be responsible.
0242: The baby was born 6 weeks premature, weighing only 3 pounds 12 ounces. He spent 13 days in the Special Care Nursery after birth, and had an attack of superventricular tachycardia. His head circumference grew 4.25 cm in a 7-day period. He was given two hepatitis B shots, the last one 7 days before his collapse and suffered many health problems.
On the day in question, the defendant’s wife left home to run an errand, leaving her husband home alone with his 5-week-old son. About an hour after she left, he called 911 to report that the child was not breathing. The doctors found bruising and retinal hemorrhage. Abuse was diagnosed. Both parents were arrested at 1:00 a.m. in their home.
Medical experts insisted that the shaking must have occurred immediately prior to the baby’s collapse, when he was alone with his father. The defendant maintained his innocence throughout. He did admit to shaking the child in an attempt to revive him, but not hard. The defense attorney said that a vaccine the child had recently received may have played a part.
The father was convicted of aggravated child abuse and sentenced to 21 years. The baby’s mother was sentenced to 2-3 years for failure to protect.
An appeals court reversed the trial court’s decision and a new trial was granted. Prosecutors then sought an indictment for felony murder. The defendant was convicted and sentenced to life.
An appeal of the second trial was not successful.
0243: The baby’s father, 28, said his 3-month-old daughter fell head first into the bathtub after slipping from his grasp. Defense attorneys maintained the death was an accident, and prosecution experts could not say the injuries could not be caused by a fall.
The father has previous convictions for petty larceny, assault, receiving stolen goods, possession of a stolen vehicle and driving offenses.
He decided to plead guilty with an Alford plea rather than take a chance of conviction at trial on the charge of homicide by child abuse with a sentence up to life in prison. He was sentenced to 5 years probation on a charge of inflicting great bodily injury on a child.
The baby’s maternal grandmother said, “I am so beyond angry. There’s people sleeping in jail for writing bad checks or credit card fraud.”
The baby’s maternal family later joined with others to sponsor a bill to require a minimum two-year prison sentence for day-care operators convicted of killing children. Prosecutors and judges were concerned that the bill would rob them of flexibility in crafting pleas and sentences, resulting in more trials and a backlog of cases in an already overburdened court system.
0244: The teenage mother left her 6.5-month-old boy with his 28-year-old father, who weighed 300 pounds, while she worked. The boy had been injured in a fall down stairs a month earlier. Seven days prior to his collapse, he had run a fever of 100.2 degrees. She called the health department and they said to give him Tylenol.
There were no obvious injuries. An autopsy showed hemorrhaging and a skull fracture. More tests showed rib fractures that had started to heal.
At trial, two dolls were used to tell two different stories about what could have happened. The defense argued that the lack of external injuries exonerated his client. The prosecution said it had proven it was no accident and the jury had to either believe the doctors and the emergency technicians or the defendant.
The jury convicted in less than two hours, and the judge sentenced the defendant to life, the mandatory sentence for non-capital murder in the state.
The mother, who initially did not believe the allegations, said justice was served by the verdict. She had come to believe the baby’s father had killed him because “his stories kept changing.”
0245: A few weeks prior to the 13-month-old girl’s death, she was hospitalized for the flu, which caused diarrhea and dehydration. She also suffered a febrile seizure. She was placed on an IV and tested for meningitis. The doctor saw no bruises or other injuries.
On the day in question, the mother left her two children in the care of her boyfriend. She went to get groceries and returned to find the baby undressed except for a diaper. The defendant told her she had vomited on the sheets. He had put her on the couch while he prepared a bath, and returned to find her lying on the floor. The mother noted a bruise on the right side of the girl’s head. The mother left briefly a few other times that evening.
Between 10:00 and 11:00 p.m., the baby woke up crying and appeared to be having trouble breathing. Some bruises on the baby’s head were swollen. About five minutes later, she began to breathe normally again and they decided not to take her to the emergency room.
The next morning, the mother left for work. The baby woke up crying. She wouldn’t take a bottle but ate baby food and then “passed out, just fell asleep again.” When he returned shortly thereafter, she was limp and barely breathing. He tried to pry her mouth open to give her medicine but her jaw was locked. He called for help.
At the hospital, the baby was found to have severe retinal hemorrhages and many areas of bleeding in her head. The doctor said she could not possibly have eaten that morning. His working diagnosis was child abuse. Doctors agreed that neither a fall nor treatment by health care providers could have caused the bruising they saw.
The defendant was found guilty of negligent homicide and sentenced to 10 years.
An appeal argued that the evidence was insufficient to support the charge and that the introduction of large photographs of the child in good health and of the autopsy photos was prejudicial. The appeals court disagreed, saying circumstantial evidence could be used to prove any element of an offense. The baby was healthy when she was left with the defendant. The evidence indicated that injuries were acute and the defendant had no satisfactory explanation. The photographs, it was ruled on appeal, were appropriate.
0246: The baby boy was born prematurely and had trouble eating or sleeping. A few days before his collapse, the parents noticed that his hand and leg started twitching. They mentioned it to the doctor at the baby’s 2-month checkup but she attributed it to hiccups. She informed the mother about a heart murmur, however, and the baby was taken to the hospital. He was found to have an enlarged liver as well as a heart murmur. Doctors diagnosed peripheral pulmonary stenosis. They discharged him after one night at the hospital, and gave him his 2-month vaccines. The pediatrician had not given him those shots the previous day because he was running a fever.
The following day the baby slept more than usual. He was left alone with his father while the mother went to an appointment. The baby seemed fussy and kind of limp. An hour thereafter the baby started to turn blue. They called 911 and he was rushed to the hospital. Neither parent was allowed to be near the child. A doctor told them they should get a lawyer.
The police interrogation lasted 8 hours. The same questions were asked over and over. Police said the father eventually confessed, but so much of the tape had been erased that the “confession” was thrown out. Shortly thereafter, a plea bargain was reached.
0247: The babysitter, 55, was accused of murder. A year-old girl in her care died after being rushed to the hospital with head injuries. She had been running a day-care center in her home for 18 years, with no prior citations. She admitted striking the girl on the back several times in an effort to dislodge food as the baby choked.
A skull fracture was found, as well as retinal hemorrhages.
More than a year after the baby’s death, the sitter was charged with first degree murder for having shaken and struck the girl, knowingly inflicting her fatal injuries.
A defense expert testified that some of the injuries could have been caused by the respirator.
After a weeklong trial and nine hours of deliberations, the sitter was acquitted.
0248: The nearly 3-year-old girl was taken to the hospital where shaken baby syndrome was diagnosed. Her father was given a Miranda warning but waived his right to have an attorney present. He was interrogated by police from 11:51 p.m. to 12:22 a.m.
The mother said the baby had awakened crying and scratching herself. The father went to work at 3:00 p.m. but was called home by his live-in girlfriend at 7:30. When he got home, they called 911 and the baby was rushed to the hospital.
The father said he had watched the children earlier, while his girlfriend worked. The 3-year old and her 5-year-old sister were playing on a top bunk, which was not allowed. The father told them to get down. The girl apparently fell from the top bunk onto her head. He also said, “For the past three weeks she fell more than I’ve ever seen a kid fall. She fell three times in 10 minutes.” He thought she was in “a clumsy stage.”
The detective said, “She’s got retinal hemorrhaging. Retinal hemorrhaging does not occur from a fall. The only way I’ve known it to happen is shaking a child back and forth. It’s called shaken baby syndrome. Something happened today.”
The father insisted over and over that he did not know what happened. “I swear to you, I didn’t do anything.” Another investigator joined in: “Retinal hemorrhaging could occur one way and that’s from being shaken violently. A child probably couldn’t have done it.” He was told that neither he nor his girlfriend would be allowed to see the baby “because we don’t know what happened to her. The main thing is the children have to be safe.”
The father was charged with injury to a child. The verdict is not known. The baby recovered.
0249: The father, 37, was home with his 2-month-old daughter on a Sunday while his wife and other daughter went to a museum. The baby had had her first virus about a week earlier. He said he tried to stop the baby’s cries by feeding her and rocking her, but eventually lost his temper and shook her for several seconds.
After he shook her, her body stiffened and her arms raised out, then back down. She vomited and slept more than usual in the two days that followed. Two days later, she was taken to the hospital. The father had looked up shaken baby syndrome on the Internet and was “ridden with guilt” and worried about his daughter’s safety, so he confessed to the mother. She was surprised, as she had not previously seen him be violent. She did admit that infants made him nervous.
The outcome of this case is not known.
0250: According to police investigators, the father, 26, became angry after his 3-month-old baby girl vomited. He cleaned her up and put her in a baby swing. Later, under police questioning, he admitted to shaking the swing and yelling for the baby to stop crying. The baby’s mother was in the shower at the time.
The following day, the mother took the child to daycare, but was called back later in the day by a worker who said the baby appeared to be ill. The mother took the child to the doctor, who sent her to the hospital, from which she was airlifted to a big-city hospital. There, doctors found brain injuries and diagnosed abuse. They focused the investigation on the father.
The prosecution brought three doctors who work in critical care and a pediatric neurologist to testify about the baby’s injuries.
Defense attorneys put no witnesses on the stand.
The jury deliberated only 40 minutes before finding the defendant guilty and imposing a $50,000 fine. The defendant showed no emotion when the verdict was read. His sentence will be 15-25 years, of which he must serve 100%.
0251: The baby, a twin boy, was allegedly assaulted and shaken by his live-in nanny, 21. She had come with impressive credentials. But a month later, the father, a doctor, noticed the baby’s eyes were rolled back and he began to have seizures. Doctors found fractured bones, retinal hemorrhages, and extensive bleeding in the brain.
The baby suffered irreversible trauma and although he lived, he became unable to see, hear or perceive what was going on around him. He wears a permanent stent to drain fluid from his brain.
At trial, the nanny admitted to forcefully shaking the child, although she had earlier denied it. The jury acquitted her of aggravated assault, but convicted her of child endangerment. A judge sentenced her to 3.5 to 7 years, the maximum sentence for that charge and forbade her from having any contact with children through her work after she is released from prison.
The parents said they planned to lobby legislators for a law that specifically targets those who shake babies.
0252: The sitter, 28 and a mother of three children, said the 14-month-old boy she was watching had been “in a happy mood” but after a fall down five or six stairs, he began gurgling and turned glassy-eyed.
She was taken to the police station for questioning. She was specifically told she was not under arrest. She was interviewed for less than 90 minutes and insisted the child fell down the stairs. While she was waiting for her husband to pick her up, detectives were informed the child had died. She was questioned again. After telling her the child had died, detectives said in an accusatorial tone the doctors were skeptical of her account of what had happened. She eventually said she had shaken the baby to try to resuscitate him.
She was charged with first degree reckless homicide. Bail was set at $15,000.
The prosecutor said, “The gentle shaking she described does not kill.” The defense attorney said prosecutors ignored evidence from the start because they were fixated on shaken baby syndrome.
She had a no history of violence and was described as having a mild temper.
The jury found her guilty and the judge sentenced her to 16 years. He said he did not believe she was a threat to society, but says a fair sentence would be to take her away from her children for the amount of time the baby would have been with his parents as a minor.
The state’s appeal argued that her confession should not have been suppressed on the grounds that she was in custody and police had not advised her of her Miranda rights. The appeals court reversed the order, ruling that she was not in custody at the time. Custody, they ruled, meant deprived of freedom of action in a substantial way.
After an Innocence Project team overturned a similar conviction in her area, it was expected she might have a chance to be set free. Funds were authorized for her to hire expert witnesses to review her conviction.
0253: The babysitter, a 56-year-old grandmother, said the 2-year-old child she was watching fell down three steps onto a concrete patio and hit his head. She didn’t witness the fall. She carried him back into the house and applied cold compresses. He appeared to be “coming to”, opened his eyes, and pushed away the compress. She called his father who then called 911. The detective thought it was a freak accident. Doctors said his injuries, including bleeding in and on the brain, retinal hemorrhages and optic nerve damage, were consistent with shaken baby syndrome. There were no broken bones or head/neck injuries.
The defense moved to bar references to shaken baby syndrome in the trial, saying that medical studies prove children can be fatally injured in short falls. He said it was an extremely controversial diagnosis, based on invalid science.
A prosecution expert argued that although retinal hemorrhages can result from a variety of things, actual tearing of the retina is only seen in children who have been shaken. Under cross examination, he admitted that there is much that is not known, including what is the least amount of force required to cause retinal hemorrhaging and how many shakes it takes. The defense attorney questioned him extensively about articles published by others who have differing opinions. “The doctor chooses what he wants to believe. He has to see retinal hemorrhage and subdural hemorrhage then he looks at the history [caretaker’s account] and decides if he wants to believe it.”
The judge ruled not to allow any reference to shaken baby syndrome by prosecution experts. They will not be allowed to testify that she shook the baby and will not be allowed to comment on whether they think she was truthful in her version of events. the term rotational acceleration/deceleration injury was used instead.
Prior to the trial, jurors toured areas of the sitter’s former residence that will be referred to during trial.
Doctors said the defendant’s account did not match the injuries observed. At the trial, one doctor used a doll to enact the kind of attack he said could have caused the injury. As he violently slammed the doll several times onto the courtroom floor and, later, a chair, the defendant and some courtroom visitors began crying. He said there were faint bruises but he could not make out distinct finger marks or fingernail marks on the body.
Two doctors testified for the defense, saying that the fall described could account for the injuries. One said that an anti-coagulant drug given for the organ harvest contributed to the many bruises seen.
A neighbor testified that she had known the defendant for 30 years. She spoke with her in the early afternoon of the day the baby was hurt, then took a nap and when she awoke, saw police officers at her neighbor’s house. She said she had heard no crying or yelling and everything seemed to be normal. She characterized the defendant as “calm, collected, easygoing, softspoken.” Another acquaintance repeatedly said how much the defendant loves children and how much she enjoyed being around them. After her husband died, she would be sad when she was alone in the evening, but not when kids were around. “As long as she had kids around her, she was in her glory.”
The jury convicted on all counts. The courtroom was filled to capacity as it had been during the entire trial. The sound of sobbing filled the room and her friends and distraught family members called out “I love you” as she was led away in handcuffs.
She was sentenced to life in prison. The appellate court affirmed the verdict and the state supreme court declined to review the case, saying no substantial constitutional issues were involved.
0254: Police were dispatched to the home of the parents after a call was received about a nonresponsive child.
A 1-month-old baby, who had spent a week after birth in the hospital because of a fever, had been sleeping on his father's chest. He was discovered not breathing.
The medical examiner called the cause of death "undetermined" and speculated that the child may have been smothered or died from SIDS. There was no evidence of internal injuries, fractures, or drugs and alcohol. The police called the death suspicious but no charges were filed.
0255: The baby’s parents said he began having seizures after they picked him up from his babysitter’s home. The sitter, 30, said he had been restless that day and had finally fallen asleep. Doctors said he had bleeding and swelling in the brain. When questioned, she denied shaking the baby but said she had held the baby face down over her right arm as she used her left foot to try to open a swing and had to set him down two or three times.
Capital murder was charged, meaning “under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life.” Prosecutors said they would not seek the death penalty. Bond was set at $100,000.
The defense attorney filed a motion to have references to shaken baby syndrome banned from the trial, saying that such terminology may mislead the jury to think that such injuries can only result from shaking. The science, he said, is largely unsettled with disagreements among the experts. The motion was denied.
He also filed a motion to suppress recordings of telephone conversations made while she was in jail. The prosecutor said there is nothing directly incriminating on the tapes, but they would be used to show her state of mind. They were allowed.
A prosecution expert said that to inflict the degree of injuries the child manifested, a person would typically have to violently shake an infant for approximately 15 to 20 seconds. The sitter had a cast on her arm and the defense said it would have been impossible for her to shake the baby as alleged. The defense claimed the baby may have had a genetic condition. The sitter’s 5-year-old son testified that he had seen his 2-year-old brother shake a swing while the baby was in it.
The defendant, an insulin-dependent diabetic who weighted 240 pounds, sobbed through hours of the trial, staring at the table before her.
After about six hours of deliberation, jurors found her guilty of the lesser charge of second degree murder. She was given the maximum sentence, 20 years.
Two years after her conviction, a state appeals court upheld the conviction.
0256: The 6-month-old baby was dropped at the sitter’s at 6:00 a.m. When the father came to pick him up at 3:00 p.m., he immediately noticed something wrong. The sitter denied that anything unusual had happened on her watch. The baby was taken to the hospital, then transferred to a pediatric intensive care unit for specialized treatment. He had a brain hemorrhage, skull fracture and retinal damage.
He had been born prematurely and was on an electronic monitoring system the day of his injuries. The monitor pinpointed 10:30 a.m. as the time when an injury occurred. The sitter ultimately admitted she may have “jiggled” the baby a little bit.
She pleaded guilty to one count of felony child abuse in a plea bargain. The prosecutor requested a sentence of six years based on her lack of remorse and her unwillingness to accept responsibility for the injuries. The judge sentenced her to probation.
The baby’s mother said, “I do not understand how the judge could have given her such a light sentence.” She contends that the sitter refused to assist emergency room doctors to help them make an early diagnosis.
0257: The 3-month-old baby had been born prematurely and was fussy. His father, 24, was alone with the baby on a Saturday. He later said he was upset because he had to babysit while his wife was out with relatives.
He went to work on Sunday. The mother called paramedics when the baby had trouble breathing. Doctors, who saw the child approximately 17 hours after the alleged assault, diagnosed shaken baby syndrome. They found multiple fractures and believed the child had been mistreated on other occasions as well.
The baby survived but has seizures daily and needs full time care. The couple’s 18-month-old daughter was removed from their custody.
The father pleaded guilty, apologized, and was very remorseful. He was sentenced to 13 years in prison, the maximum for the offense. “Other than the fact the child is still able to breathe,” the judge said, “this child was murdered. This child will never have a life.”
0258: The defendant, 25, and his girlfriend (the baby’s mother) brought the child to the hospital, saying he was struggling to breathe. Doctors said her injuries were consistent with shaken baby syndrome.
Hours later, the boyfriend was arrested. Under police questioning, he admitted to police that she was crying and he snatched her from the bed and shook her until she went silent.
He was charged with felony murder and first degree child abuse, carrying a sentence of up to life. He was held without bond.
At trial, the prosecution presented five witnesses and the defense had none. Testimony revealed that on Tuesday morning, the defendant had offered to give the baby a bath so the mother could go back to sleep. The mother was awakened by the defendant, who said something was wrong. The baby wasn’t breathing right. She had lost color in her face and wouldn’t open her eyes. He initially told police he had checked on the baby in her crib and found her struggling to breathe and only admitted to shaking her after intense questioning.
The defense said the defendant suffered from brain aneurysms and severe migraines. He was trying to rear his own three children and his girlfriend’s two on a disability income of just $600 a month. The mother said she had never seen him act violently.
According to one juror, the jury had dismissed second degree murder and first degree child abuse and decided to convict on second-degree child abuse. They could not agree on voluntary manslaughter and were not given the option of involuntary manslaughter. The trial was headed toward a hung jury and possible mistrial when the defendant pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter.
“I am very pleased, and I think the rest of them are, too,” said one juror of the others. “They knew he was guilty and didn’t want him to go free, but they also knew that some of these charges were too severe for what he actually did.”
The defense attorney was also pleased with the plea deal. He said, “Clients I represent who have some conscience about what occurred oftentimes would just as soon be found guilty of something. I think it helps their consciences in the long run.”
The defendant warmly thanked his attorney.
0259: The sitter, 30, was accused of shaking a 3-month-old baby in her care. She was arrested and charged with first and second degree assault and endangering the welfare of a child.
The jury, after three hours of deliberation, declared her not guilty. The defense attorney said that what made the difference was her own testimony. Her account of what happened that day was consistent with the case evidence, and a number of reasonable medical explanations exist for the child’s symptoms.
When the child first came to the hospital, doctors didn’t know that the baby had bled previously at the site of the brain hemorrhage. “We don’t know what happened or when,” said the defense attorney. “It could have gone all the way back to birth, and this child was never abused by anybody.”
The prosecutors insisted it was not a case of overzealous doctors. “If anyone hit the ‘on’ switch, it was the defendant when she picked up that baby and shook him.”
0260: The babysitter, 25 and a mother of six children, was arrested and charged with second degree murder after a 5-month-old girl she had been watching was diagnosed with brain injuries due to severe shaking. Her father thought she was sleeping when he picked her up, but discovered she was dead.
The sitter, an legal immigrant from Ecuador, denied hurting the child. She was arrested and held on $5 million bail.
The medical examiner said it was a “classic, textbook” example of a baby-shaking killing, and that the injuries could only have been inflicted by “a front-to-back shaking with a lot of force.” He said the injuries likely killed her within five minutes.
The defense argued that the baby could have been hurt by her father in the time he had her or she could have been hurt before the sitter’s watch. “I’m suggesting to you to look at what they’ve presented to you, but also at what they have not presented. This is the death of a child, and the life of a woman who has six kids. [My client] did not kill this child.”
After four hours of deliberation, the jury convicted her. The judge sentenced her to 25 years to life, saying anything less “than the maximum sentence would not be justice.” The sitter continued to deny hurting the baby and showed no remorse, he said. “Mercy is reserved for people who deserve it.”
0261: The parents were accused of shaking their baby, though the CAT scans showed no evidence of the typical injuries. The doctor who read the scans was a cardiologist. They spent thousands of dollars on an attorney and still lost custody of their older son.
Eventually, the case was dismissed.
0262: The 7-month-old baby boy was being cared for by his maternal aunt, who had watched him since he was six weeks old while his mother worked. On the morning of the day in question, she fed him while he was seated, but unbuckled, in his car seat on the kitchen table. She was dressing her 2-year-old when she noticed the baby’s feet dangling from the car seat. She was unable to reach him before he toppled head first out of the seat and onto the floor three feet below. Soon afterward, his eyes rolled upwards and his extremities stiffened. He made some vocal noises. His lips lost color.
She called her sister and then 911. The baby vomited twice before paramedics took him to the hospital.
Two months after the incident, the mother said she had no reason to believe the aunt had abused her child.
A prosecution expert testified that the baby had a fractured skull, cerebral edema, and subdural bleeding. She said that the injuries were not accidental and could not have been caused by the fall described. She said retinal hemorrhages could occur from accidental or noninflicted causes.
The defendant’s 8-year-old son told the juvenile court that his mother never hurt him or his siblings. He wanted to know why he could not live with his parents.
A DCFS worker concluded that the family was loving. She found no evidence of abuse to any of the children, believed they had never been abused by their parents, and believed they were not at risk. Teachers at the school the older children attended agreed, saying they were well-adjusted children of a good mother.
A different doctor later examined the boy several weeks later and found no evidence of a fracture or retinal hemorrhaging. He found this significant since the diagnosis of shaken baby syndrome had been largely based on these two symptoms.
The juvenile court found that the state failed to show by a preponderance of evidence that the injuries were other than accidental. It also found that the state failed to establish that the four children that had been removed from custody were abused.
The State appealed, and the defendant filed a motion to stop the criminal prosecution based on the juvenile court’s findings. The appeals court allowed the criminal trial to proceed.
The final outcome is not known.
0263: The father, a Patriot missile operator stationed on an army base in Texas, was watching his 3-month-old son while his mother worked. He told investigators that the baby had been fussy that day, unable to be soothed. After he put his son to bed, he heard the baby “screech.” He ran to the child’s room. The baby’s eyes were rolled back and he was gasping for air. His brain swelled and cerebral palsy set in.
Doctors diagnosed shaken baby syndrome. He was convicted of aggravated assault at a general court martial, sentenced to a military jail for six months, and dishonorably discharged. The mother, stripped of military benefits after the conviction, took the baby, who had to eat through a tube in his stomach, back to her home state.
The baby died fifteen months later.
The father, released from the military after serving his sentence, reunited with his wife and daughter and tried to start fresh, unaware that detectives in his home state wanted to try him for murder.
The conviction was appealed in military court, where few reversals are granted on appeal. In this case, however, the conviction was reversed because prosecutors had improperly presented evidence that men are most prone to shake their babies. The mother had also had access to the baby during the time period doctors say his injuries were sustained. Military officials had to either dismiss the charge or pursue a new trial.
They called a detective in the soldier’s home state and asked him to find the baby’s grave. For some 15 days, the detective attempted to do so, but there was no headstone and maps of the plots had been lost when the cemetery changed hands. An anonymous tipster pointed out a small quadrant of land and a judge gave investigators permission to dig. They found a child’s casket and took it to the medical examiner’s office. There a DNA match with the defendant proved it was his child. No one told the defendant or his family the grave had been disturbed but the father was called back into active duty to await a new trial.
0264: The defendant, 45, had been a licensed child care provider for more than 13 years. One day, she said, she discovered a 7-week-old boy in her care not breathing. She was contracted with the state to care for children of parents in low-income jobs or the Welfare to Work program.
Her first trial ended in a hung jury and mistrial. The jury was hopelessly deadlocked after seven hours of deliberation.
There was difficulty scheduling a second trial due to the schedules of expert witnesses. A defense motion to add a new witness, a specialist in biomechanics, was denied. The judge did grant a prosecution request to allow prosecution experts to testify by video-conference, for the first time in state history.
The mother testified that her former boyfriend had taken a door off its hinges and thrown a telephone at her, but “is very good with my kids.” The defense argued that he should have been investigated as a possible suspect.
The prosecution expert said the death was caused by his most recent injuries, not any he may have sustained earlier.
An ophthalmologist testified that he found macular folds in both eyes, a clear indication of shaken baby syndrome. The defense theory that an old subdural rebled was rejected by prosecution experts. One expert admitted that there is no research on how much force is required. She said the medical community relies on confessions of people who shook babies.
She was acquitted in her second trial.
0265: The defendant had quit her job because she was pregnant after 12 years of trying. A co-worker was pregnant at the same time and needed child care.
A week before the baby’s collapse, he had been to see his pediatrician. He had a cold and a low-grade fever but the doctor gave him his immunizations nevertheless. The night before the baby’s collapse, the mother was very upset when she picked him up because of a family situation. That morning she said she and her husband had had a huge fight and that’s why the baby was so sleepy.
The baby slept all morning and wouldn’t eat. The mother, who usually came to breastfeed her son at lunch, called and said she wouldn’t be able to come. The sitter decided to take all the kids to the office so she could feed him, because he hadn’t eaten or drunk anything all morning. She called to make arrangements and learned the mother had gone out to lunch!
When the sitter’s husband came home, he said, “I think the baby’s sick. He looks pale.” They called the mother and she said, “He does that all the time when he’s mad.” By the time the mother came at 6:00 p.m., the baby was not breathing right and his cheeks were puffy. The sitter wanted to take him to the emergency room but the mother wanted to take him home first. The sitter prevailed. By the time they got to the hospital, the baby was having little seizures. A CT scan showed nothing unusual. Doctors did not ventilate him so his brain was deprived of oxygen for a few hours. Several hours later, another CT scan at a larger hospital showed severe abnormalities. The sitter was accused. Despite a history of violence in the baby’s family and a big CPS file, the parents were not investigated as possible suspects.
A first trial ended with a hung jury, 11-1. The dissenting juror insisted that she was being railroaded. A second trial also ended with a hung jury, 1-11. The dissenting juror refused to deliberate, saying he knew she was guilty from the beginning. A third trial ended with an acquittal. It took 12 hours of deliberation, but the jurors said it took that long because they figured the state wouldn’t bring a case if there was no real evidence. They had voted immediately for a not guilty verdict but took 12 hours to be sure.
No defense medical experts testified at any of the trials. The prosecution expert’s testimony changed over the three years of the trials because of changing medical opinions.
The defendant’s neighbors, friends, family and church were completely supportive throughout.
0266: The father, 22, was alone with his 3-month-old son at 11:00 p.m. when the baby was injured. He told police the baby fell from his arms onto a rocking chair. He fell about two feet and his head landed on a cushion. He immediately began crying and then had a seizure. The father found the baby’s mother who was outside and she rushed him to the hospital.
The baby had no external injuries but did suffer bilateral retinal hemorrhages and a subdural hematoma. Doctors diagnosed shaken baby syndrome. The father was charged with assault and endangering the welfare of a child and held on $100,000 bond, with a provision that he have no contact with his baby or his wife. Later, bail was reduced to 10% of $50,000 and he made bail.
At one point, the defendant entered into a negotiated deal whereby he would plead guilty to simple assault and endangering the welfare of a child. In exchange, aggravated assault and reckless endangerment charges would be dropped. The judge refused to accept the agreement because the defendant would only admit he dropped the child. “He fell out of my arms, your honor.”
Eventually, he pleaded guilty to one count of simple assault and endangering the welfare of a child, saying he shook the child because he was frustrated by the boy’s behavior, had been watching the child for about four hours, and hadn’t had any sleep.
The judge said to him, “Do you have any idea what you’ve done here? Are you even close to understanding what you’ve done here?” She called his actions terrible and said he deserved to have “shaken adult syndrome.” “You’ve created problems for this child that will probably stay with him for the rest of his life,” she said.
0267: For a few weeks prior to his collapse, the 3-month-old baby boy was lethargic, had diarrhea, and vomited. One day, approximately 40 minutes after the mother left the baby in the care of his father, 29, he stopped breathing. 911 was called and the baby was rushed to the hospital.
The father, originally from Costa Rica, was immediately interrogated by police. The parents was forbidden to see their son. CPS quickly revoked custody. The parents’ names were listed on an abuse registry. Efforts were made to get the mother to testify against her husband. Eleven and a half months after the death of the baby, 15 armed police surrounded the house and arrested the father, despite an early request by defense counsel that he be allowed to turn himself in. He was charged with first degree murder and the state sought the death penalty. He was held without bail. He had no prior criminal record.
Although the attorney was not a public defender, he petitioned the court for funds to hire experts for the defense, saying, “In a death penalty case, the playing field must be equal. If the commonwealth has the funds to retain experts, so should we.”
A defense medical expert analyzed the records and concluded the baby was in excellent health until his vaccinations were given a month before his collapse. After that time, he developed infections and other symptoms. His health deteriorated until his collapse. He said other factors made this baby more vulnerable than most children, including the fact that he was breastfed and his mother was on antibiotics.
A defense lawyer withdrew from the case, saying it was impossible to work with his client’s wife, who insisted on knowing information he wanted to keep confidential. Two defense lawyers volunteered their services after they became convinced he was innocent. The obtained two credible expert opinions that a vitamin K deficiency was a factor in the baby’s collapse.
After three years in prison awaiting trial, the judge dismissed the first degree murder charge because he didn’t think prosecutors could prove premeditation or that there was intent to kill the child. The following month the defendant pleaded no contest to involuntary manslaughter and was sentenced to one year “less one day” plus probation. He was given credit for time served and set free to serve his probation. He was forbidden from being the sole caretaker of a child.
The baby’s mother said, “To lose a child is a tragedy. To have that loss compounded by false accusations is devastating. My husband is innocent!”
The defense attorney said of the plea, “When you have a choice between walking out or going to prison ... for life, there’s really no contest.” He said, “I know intellectually it is a good result, but it doesn’t feel good. These doctors are going to sweep this mistake under the carpet.”
The prosecutor said, “Reviewing all the evidence ... this is where the facts led us. If [he] had not spent one day in jail, we would have asked for two to four years. He’s already served the amount of time we would have asked for.”
“It was important for us to get a conviction here. We didn’t want this case to be kind of the standard for vitamin K deficiency.”
The defendant had the option to go back to Costa Rica or stay in the United States and serve 19 months of probation. He returned to his home country.
0268: The nanny, an illegal 29-year-old immigrant from Peru, had been thoroughly checked out by the family. They even had a private investigator check her out prior to hiring her. They became suspicious when the baby would squirm and cry when handed to the sitter, so they installed hidden nanny cams in their home and were horrified to find footage of her apparently shaking their 5-month-old baby violently. The tape was aired again and again on news broadcasts throughout the country and the parents were interviewed on news magazines. It was the first time an alleged shaking incident had been caught on tape. The parents allowed police to copy the “relevant” portions but erased the original footage from the hard drive. Surrounding footage showed her playing gently with the baby.
The defendant said she was playing with the child, dancing with her to music. The child underwent a battery of medical tests but showed no sign of injury, although a civil lawsuit alleges that she did. A child protection doctor said, “If people felt that the shaking [in the video] was violent, and it was, imagine how hard someone must shake a baby to cause shaken baby syndrome.”
The nanny was charged with felony child abuse and held on $152,000 bond. A family for which she had previously worked attended her bond hearing to support her. She spent 2.5 years in prison awaiting trial. She denied abusing the child and refused to plea bargain.
Charges were dropped on the day jury selection was to begin because of questions about the accuracy of the camera. The tape was time lapsed, meaning that the movements might not have been as violent as they appeared. The judge threw it out and no evidence remained. Top forensic video experts testified that the nanny cam took still pictures a few times a second, which could make gentle motions appear violent. Prosecutors eventually acknowledged the video evidence was worthless. They cleared her record of the charges entirely.
“Today, [the defendant] learned first-hand the true meaning of justice,” said the defense attorney. “In America, the truth will set you free.”
The defendant said, “Since the first day I was incarcerated, I always (thought) that one day it was going to finish and they’re going to show the truth. The truth is going to come thanks to the judge and the justice.”
A civil suit against the nanny and the company that sent her was settled for an undisclosed amount. The nanny sued the makers of the video surveillance equipment, alleging the footage wrongfully led to her arrest and imprisonment.
0269: A 37-year-old man who had volunteered to work at a child care center was charged with first-degree battery. Emergency workers were called because a 5-month-old boy was lethargic and having difficulty breathing. The man was alone with the child during the time doctors said the incident took place. He admitted to police that he shook the child in an attempt to get him to breathe.
Doctors found several fractured ribs that appeared to be 2-3 weeks old, as well as swelling and bruising on the brain.
The mother had taken the baby to the family doctor during the weeks leading up to the hospital visit, saying he seemed to be in pain. Doctors thought he was suffering with regular stomach problems.
The baby underwent brain surgery and was in critical condition.
The defendant was convicted and sentenced to 14 years in prison.
0270: The 7-week-old baby boy was not breathing when he arrived at the hospital. Doctors saw bruising and signs of shaken baby syndrome and an investigation was initiated. Police said the father, 24, placed the child on a couch and waited 10-20 minutes before trying to call anyone.
Under questioning, he confessed to shaking the child while his mother was picking up another child from school. He had been on probation for the past 7 months on a drug charge. He was arrested for first degree murder and bond was set at $500,000.
The baby’s heart, liver and kidneys were donated and transplanted into four other children.
The father pleaded guilty to lesser charges sentenced to 50 years.
0271: The father, 24, told police he had been sitting at a computer desk with his 3-month-old son lying nearby on the floor. The baby started “fussing” and he got up to check on him. His feet became tangled in the blanket and he fell on the child. The mother was shopping at the time.
That explanation, said doctors, did not match the infant’s injuries--internal injuries to the brain, broken bones and a skull fracture. He suffers from impaired vision and other long-term medical problems.
He was charged with first degree child abuse and held on $50,000 bond.
The father was on probation for child abuse of an 8-month-old child from a previous relationship. That child suffered multiple broken bones and has been adopted out.
The defendant was asked to respond to the allegations. He said, “I have nothing to say.”
He was convicted and sentenced to 18 years.
0272: A well-regarded former Army soldier was accused of shaking his girlfriend’s handicapped 4-year-old son to death.
The defense argued that the child’s brain stem was unusually vulnerable as a result of spina bifida. He was paralyzed from the waist down. Both his mother and her boyfriend had a vision that the boy would someday be able to walk on his own. They attempted to help him with rigorous discipline and exercise.
Prosecutors said the “vision” of helping the boy was a fatal obsession that pushed the boy beyond the limits of his capabilities. His home, the prosecutor said, had been transformed into a boot camp.
One day, while the mother was out of the house, the boy fell during one of the exercises and refused to get up. That’s when the defendant said he shook him for about 20 seconds. “The more he was whining and whimpering, the more I let my frustrations go,” he told police. Frustration had been building up in the man’s life.
The defense medical expert said the child’s injuries lacked the “herald sign” of shaking, subdural hemorrhage. She had testified at 20 shaken baby syndrome trials and this was the first time she had testified for the defense.
The jury acquitted on the charge of manslaughter, but convicted on the lesser included charge of criminally negligent homicide.
Said the father, “I may be able to deal with it, but I’ll never forgive myself. I took away his chances to do the things he could have done later. I mean, a person can never forgive himself for that. Not any person with any kind of conscience.”
The judge sentenced the defendant to 2 years, noting his clean record, genuine remorse, and excellent prospects for rehabilitation. The range of sentencing was probation to five years. He said, “The public demands that there be some minimum price for taking human life. I’ve struck what I think is a fair balance.”
In addition to prison time, he was sentenced to two years probation, mental health counseling, 250 hours of community service, to include speaking to groups about how to handle parental anger.
0273: The baby sitter, 51, called 911 saying a 15-month-old girl in her care was “limp and unresponsive.” She told police she believed the girl had hit heads with another child. Paramedics examined the girl and said she appeared to be fine.
The child’s mother took her to the hospital, where a CT scan revealed she had a subdural bleed. The baby recovered completely.
A few days later, the sitter told police she had been carrying the girl when she tripped and fell. The child had struck her head against the wall and the metal hinge of the playpen. Her supposed changing stories were an issue in the case. Other parents with children in her care said they trusted her. She received multiple letters of support from community members, including parents of other children she had watched. She had provided child care for 20 years.
She was charged with felony child abuse. A year and a half later, she pleaded guilty to misdemeanor child abuse and was sentenced to probation, 125 hours of community service, $1,949 to cover the child’s medical bills, and individual counseling. she was also to write a sincere letter of apology to the child’s family within 30 days.
“I’m sorry,” she said to the family. “This was an accident. I would never hurt a child. I love her like any other child I’ve ever watched. I will remember this for the rest of my life.””
0274: The sitter, a 34-year-old Vietnamese immigrant, was caring for a 16-month-old boy while his parents were at work. She told police she was changing the boy’s diaper when he had a seizure and passed out. She called a friend who called 911.
She was charged with murder and child abuse resulting in death. She spent more than 10 months in jail awaiting trial. She received much support from family, friends, and the Catholic community to which she belonged.
Prosecutors claimed the woman, who was quite small, “violently” shook the toddler, causing the head injury that resulted in his death. The defense said the boy was sickly and prone to falling. They attributed his head injuries to a fall.
It took a jury four and a half hours to acquit. She was released from custody and reunited with her husband and three children, one of whom had been born in jail.
“The speed of the verdict is eloquent evidence that this quiet mother should never have been prosecuted,” said the defense attorney. “What happened to this woman is obscene.”
0275: When her 12-day-old son refused to eat and became unresponsive and breathless, his mother took him to a hospital. They found hemorrhages in his brain and eyes. CPS promptly removed all children from her home.
Two months later, doctors discovered that the boy actually had a rare blood disease, haemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (HLH). It is thought to affect just one in 50,000 babies, only 200 per year in the United States. It is possible that many cases are being misdiagnosed as shaken baby syndrome.
“I told them that he got sick overnight, and they said that can’t happen, you have to shake a baby to get a brain hemorrhage,” she told a reporter. “They had a neurologist with 30 years’ experience testify that he was 100% sure it was shaken baby syndrome.”
No one knows how many other cases are misdiagnosed, or how many parents are wrongly accused. The biggest tragedy is, without prompt diagnosis HLH can be fatal.
Child protection workers worry that raising the profile of HLH could let child abusers off the hook. There is no quick and easy way to diagnose the disease. Results overlap with those seen for hepatitis, encephalitis, sepsis and leishmaniasis. A test for lowered levels of “natural killer cells” is a sure sign of HLH, but it takes at least a week to get results.
HLH is not a priority for researchers because it is rare.
An article in Pediatrics vol. 111, p636, highlights this and two other cases of misdiagnoses. In this case, charges were dropped. In one of those cases, the bereaved parents remain under suspicion for child abuse, despite the diagnosis of HLH.
0276: The father, 22, was the sole caregiver of his 4-month-old boy before he was admitted to the hospital. The baby had been born premature, at just 29 weeks. The autopsy included a dissection of the baby’s brain stem that showed extensive injury, including hemorrhaging within the stem and along its entire length. The brain stem controls respiration.
A doctor initially said the fatal injuries could have occurred anytime within the past five days. There were earlier signs of injury which could have occurred up to two months previously.
The father said he lifted the baby out of his cot after hearing him gasping. He may have shaken the child in panic as he urged him to “hang on” and said “Son, are you still with us?” He was regarded by others as a caring young father.
During what the parents believed was a routine discussion with police and doctors, the defendant was interviewed for 45 minutes and charged with manslaughter. He spent almost 15 months in jail awaiting trial. His only freedom after arrest was a few hours for his son’s burial the day after his arrest, and a few days’ bail, ruined when he saw the baby’s mother in violation of the bail conditions. She believed in his innocence throughout.
A defense expert said it could not be concluded with certainty that the injury could only have occurred within the 47 minutes prior to the 911 call, the time the defendant was alone with the child.
After a three and a half day trial and four hours of deliberation, the jury returned a not guilty verdict. The baby’s mother and her family embraced him.
0277: The mother’s boyfriend, 31, said he was sleeping in the living room when he awoke to a loud crash and found the 3-year-old boy laying on the kitchen floor. He surmised the child had climbed onto the counter after a snack and fallen off.
He was charged with second degree murder. Several people testified to the man’s “threatening nature” and jealousy. His girlfriend testified that he had threatened her and forbade her to wear makeup or anything but baggy clothing. She had revealed to him a week prior that she was pregnant with his child. He appeared agitated and upset at the news.
The defendant waived his right to a jury trial and the case was tried before a judge in a bench trial
A defense expert witness said the injuries could have resulted from the fall described. The boy had three crushed bones, a skull fracture, and hemorrhaging in his right eye where the retina was detached. “I do not see anything that would lead me to believe this was a homicide,” she said.
The judge rendered a guilty verdict on both counts, intentional murder and depraved mind. The defendant screamed, “God will judge you! I am innocent!” He attempted to run out of the courtroom but was quickly restrained by several Sheriff’s deputies who used physical force to get him into handcuffs.
An appeal was unsuccessful. The appeals court found that “considering the heinous nature of the crime and the age of the victim, we conclude the sentence is not harsh or severe.”
0278: The sitter, 28, picked up her 4-month-old goddaughter at her father’s and took her home. She testified that she panicked when the child suddenly became unconscious. She tried CPR and then called for help.
Medical evidence showed a web of fractures on the back of the infant’s head and other symptoms doctors said were indicators of shaken-baby syndrome.
The defense argued that another caretaker may have been responsible. The baby’s father had the child just before the mother picked her up. The defense lawyer said, “I didn’t say he did it. I said he had custody, motive, and opportunity.” The motive, he said, was a $25,000 insurance policy the father took out on the baby two months before she died.
Investigators exonerated the baby’s parents and said the sitter injured the child as well as failed to call for emergency help in time to save her life.
The first trial ended with a hung jury. After the second trial, jurors split into camps immediately, with nine voting for conviction and three for acquittal. One eventually changed sides, but two others stood fast. The majority became furious at the holdouts. “They were about to come over the table and fight us,” said one. “We were scared. I’m only 4-foot-9. I said, ‘If you want to come over the table and jump me, go ahead.” She said “The experts were paid to testify for the prosecutors. [The others] couldn’t get that through their heads.”
After 15 hours with no progress, a second mistrial was declared.
A juror who favored conviction said, “It came down to the fact that the two jurors would not look at the evidence. They just said, ‘We don’t think she did it.’” They embraced the defendant after the trial and one said, “I knew you loved that baby.”
The defendant said, “I believe she was injured before she ever reached my hands.”
0279: The mother’s boyfriend, 18, was charged with second degree murder in the death of his girlfriend’s month-old son. He was held on $250,000 bail. An autopsy showed blunt traumatic injuries to the head and fresh rib fractures, as well as evidence of earlier abuse, including healed rib fractures.
On the day in question, the baby continued to cry after the mother left for work. He tried to feed him, then put him in a swing. Finally, he said, he bounced the baby on his knee until he quieted down. He admitted to police that he sometimes got frustrated with the baby and would abruptly lay him down.
Later, he called his girlfriend twice at work to say the child seemed unusually tired. When he went to pick her up at work, she noticed the baby seemed limp. His skin was cold and one pupil was larger than the other. They drove the baby to the hospital, where he died four days later.
The mother had put the child up for adoption and turned him over to the adoptive parents, but the defendant talked her into changing her mind. She and the defendant and the baby then lived with his parents.
Over time, the baby became increasingly fussy, crying and spitting up his food. The mother tearfully testified that she believed her boyfriend was innocent. Numerous other witnesses testified that he was always very good and gentle around children. He did have a juvenile record of misdemeanor thefts.
The defense said there was no convincing evidence to pinpoint when the injuries occurred. Without knowing that, it was impossible to say who was responsible, since a number of people had cared for the baby in the days before his collapse.
A prosecution expert testified that it is possible to suffer shaken baby syndrome in as little as two or three seconds. He clearly indicated that seizure cases constitute an “exception” to the general rules regarding shaken baby syndrome.
The jury acquitted the defendant of murder but deadlocked on the manslaughter charge.
0280: The father, 31, was accused of violently shaking his 3-month-old namesake, twice. He had called the mother, a substitute teacher, and told her the baby was not “breathing right.” She met him at the emergency room. Doctors discharged the baby that night. Two days later, the baby had a seizure and was taken to the pediatrician, who sent him to a regional hospital, from which he was airlifted to a large hospital. There, doctors found a subdural hematoma and bilateral retinal hemorrhages. They diagnosed abuse.
Three days later, the father was questioned. During the interview, he became emotional and started crying. He said, “I picked him up to try to see what was wrong. I was too rough with him. I didn’t mean to hurt him. I thought he was strong like me but he’s too little.”
He arrested and charged with felony child abuse. The mother supported him throughout and visited him more than 40 times in jail as he awaited trial. The prosecutor said, “When the partner of the mother is the perpetrator, it is my experience many mothers support [them] over the interests of their children.”
The child survived but may have permanent injuries. At 11 months, he could still not sit up or hold his bottle.
The doctor said his examination left no doubt as to the nature of the injuries. He said they were equivalent to falling three or four stories or being in a serious motorcycle wreck. Anyone who inflicted them would have immediately known how serious they were.
The defense lawyer said others could have been responsible or he could have been hurt when he fell off a bed in the car seat.
The jury deliberated only 30 minutes before finding him guilty. He was sentenced to 8 to 10 years. The judge made a mistake in the jury instructions. The defendant had been charged with two counts of felony child abuse, but he only mentioned one to the jury. He said the sentenced wouldn’t have changed if the defendant had been found guilty of both counts.
“I feel like the jury has spoken volumes for this child who cannot speak for himself,” said the prosecutor. The mother refused to talk to reporters.
0281: The father, 47, claimed his 18-month-old son had fallen out of bed twice, but doctors determined he had suffered violent force trauma typical of shaken baby syndrome. He admitted to being the only person with the child when the injury occurred, but denied harming the child under police questioning. The baby died four days later.
He was arrested immediately but released. Prosecutors said they needed more evidence to bolster the case. Biological evidence was sent to a major university and after a year of investigation, he was indicted by a grand jury, charged with murder and assault, and held in lieu of $3 million bail.
The District Attorney said the crime was in part a result of the defendant’s complicated marital situation. “People don’t just wake up in the morning and say, ‘I’m going to kill a child,” he said. “These crimes always happen because of family dynamics.” In this case, the mother of the child, who referred to the defendant as her fiancée, had told him she would not engage in “relations” with him until he divorced. This was only the second time he had been left alone with the child.
Prior to the trial, the judge accepted a prosecution motion to admit photographs of the baby’s injuries and a defense motion to exclude evidence of the defendant’s prior theft and acts of road rage. The judge denied a defense motion to preclude the use of language such as “shaken baby syndrome.”
At the trial, the defense surprisingly rested its case without putting anyone on the stand. The defendant had been expected to testify that the baby fell from his bed while his father was not looking, then got up and fell again, hitting his head on a heater.
After one day of jury deliberation, the defendant was found guilty of second degree murder. The judge sentenced him to 25 years to life. An appeal was unsuccessful.
0282: The baby’s aunt, 31, called 911 to report her 20-month-old niece was having medical problems. She then took the child to the hospital, where she died the next day.
Authorities alleged the death was due to shaken baby syndrome and charged the sitter with murder. The child had massive head trauma and retinal bleeding.
The mother said of her husband, “When she died, he pretty much died then.” Six months after the baby died, the mother’s husband, who was not the baby’s father but had intended to adopt her, slit his arm and bled to death. He left a note saying the baby was alone in heaven and he was going there to take care of her.
After two and a half years of delays, and with the mother’s approval, the defendant pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of child homicide committed negligently. She received the maximum sentence of 5 years.
The defendant, stoic throughout the two years of court hearings, broke down in tears as she apologized to the family for the baby’s death. “She didn’t mean for it to happen, but it did happen,” said the mother. The baby’s grandparent called her violent and a monster. “She has not expressed one ounce of sorrow for her actions. She only denied it,” he said.
0283: One day in June, the 9-month-old daughter of the defendant, 38, began vomiting and became lethargic. The parents took her to a general practitioner who sent her to a hospital. She was unconscious when they arrived. Doctors said the baby had head injuries, had been shaken and would probably die. Police took the father away for questioning.
The mother, who was pregnant with another child, was also questioned by police. They even visited her while she was delivering that child, stillborn.
She said, “We’ve had two funerals for our babies in six months and on top of that my lawyer told me the police were looking to charge either both of us or just my husband with murder.”
The father said, “We were vilified. People started ringing me up and screaming at us that they knew what we had done to our little girl. I’ll never get over how I was humiliated.”
An autopsy revealed that the little girl had died of meningitis. She had a rare genetic brain disorder--congenital disorder of glycosylation. That condition, doctors said, makes children prone to infections and prevents them from thriving.
Nevertheless, child protection workers removed their other two children from the home. Police refused to close the case and told the couple if they want their children back they must fight for them through the courts.
The police detective was unapologetic. “Legislation requires that we do this investigation and that doesn’t mean we should apologize to the family for doing it. I know the family don’t understand that, but at the end of the day we are doing what we have to do.” He said, “I make no excuses for removing a child in these situations. Parents should be aware that their children will be placed in care if they are harmed or at risk of harm. Parents must be able to clearly and unequivocally demonstrate that they are willing and able to provide care and protection for their children before the department will consider reunification.”
0284: It was the 10-week-old baby’s first full day with a baby sitter. Hours later, the sitter called and said the boy had fallen from the couch, wasn’t breathing except for a few intermittent deep gasps, and was being taken to the hospital by ambulance. He said the baby had fallen 16” from a couch onto a carpeted floor. The boy had been in the care of both the man and his wife all morning.
Doctors said the injuries could not have come from a fall. They were consistent with shaken baby syndrome. The child had two skull fractures, brain swelling, bleeding and tears in his retinas, but no bruising. The baby returned home, but lived only a few more weeks.
A year later, a six-member jury was seated for a three-day inquest to determine whether charges should be filed, and against whom. The parents were not ever questioned or considered to be suspects. Doctors said the injuries had to have been sustained within fifteen minutes of the baby’s collapse and the force was equivalent to a fall from a very high height, 5 or 6 stories, onto concrete.
The inquest jury recommended that both sitters be charged with first-degree reckless homicide. The prosecutor said it is difficult to charge two people with the same crime. “From a criminal aspect, given these circumstances, we really need to charge one or the other,” he said.
The parents filed a wrongful death suit for medical expenses, lost wages, funeral expenses, past and future pain and suffering, loss of their son’s companionship, attorney fees, punitive damages and any other “relief as the court deems fair and equitable.”
One of the sitters said that morning the child was difficult to wake, didn’t eat well, whined and had other symptoms of illness. She believed the child had been injured prior to coming into their home. The autopsy revealed the baby’s brain had shrunk significantly. Doctors maintained the injuries would have occurred after he was last observed to be normal. The parents testified that their son had been normal when he was left at the sitters, although the father did say he had spit up over the weekend and screamed while he was being undressed.
Both sitters were charged with reckless homicide and perjury 19 months after the baby’s death, leaving it to the court to determine who committed the abuse and who lied to cover up for the other. The prosecutor insisted they both committed perjury when they insisted they did not hurt the baby.
On the eve of the trial, the judge accepted a prosecutor’s request to dismiss charges without prejudice against both sitters. The parents said, “We don’t like it, but with how the laws in this country work, we don’t have an option.”
One defendant said, “We feel deep sorrow for [the parents’] loss. Nobody should have to endure the loss of a child, but that doesn’t change the fact that we had nothing to do with his injuries. I can’t even begin to understand what they are going through, so I won’t pretend that I do.”
Of the prosecutors, he said, “They took our children away for nearly a year. Is that innocent until proven guilty? Because of what the state has done to us, I will forever be a cynic and we will never forgive them.”
“We’re still waiting for justice,” said the baby’s mother.
0285: A 23-year-old mother of four was charged with murder after her 18-month-old son, a twin, died. The autopsy determined the child died of "abusive head trauma".
The mother said the child hit his head on an oxygen tank after falling out of a playpen.
DCF said they had investigated the mother six times but could not find any credible evidence of abuse.
She pleaded not guilty and was released on $15,000 bond. Her attorney said, "My client is a good mother. She has four children she loves them all and is extremely hurt now and its in unfortunate she can’t even go through the grieving process as she should because of these charges."
The case is ongoing.
0286: The mother, 25, found her 20-day-old baby dead in her crib. The father had seen the baby alive the previous evening at 9:00 p.m. and was asleep when the mother woke him up at 8:00 a.m. to tell him his daughter wasn’t breathing.
The investigator said the mother told him she woke up at 2:00 a.m., breast fed the baby, changed her diaper and put her back in her crib. She fussed a bit before going back to sleep. That was the last time she saw her alive.
A pediatrician who specializes in child abuse found bruises on the baby’s buttocks, five broken ribs, brain hemorrhage, hemorrhaging around the optic nerves and damage to both eyes. Another expert testified that a baby with her injuries would not be able to breast feed or even cry.
The mother was charged with child abuse homicide and allowed to remain free on her own recognizance.
A week-long jury trial nearly ended in a mistrial, requested by prosecutors after to a witness for the defense gave more information than the county attorneys had during testimony. Attorneys on both sides are supposed to receive all information from each other prior to trial. Rather than risk another trial, both sides agreed to divert the case for a year and then dismiss it with prejudice if the defendant obeyed all local, state and federal laws during that time.
0287: Something went wrong when the defendant, the baby’s godmother, gave birth to her daughter, but it was never spelled out in court. Every time the defense attorney tried to get a witness to bring it up, prosecutors objected and the objection was sustained.
On the day in question, the 7-month-old baby seemed fine when the father dropped her off about 6:30 a.m. The baby woke up about 8:00 a.m. but wouldn’t take a bottle. She fell back asleep. At 10:00 a.m., the sitter noticed she was having trouble breathing and called 911.
A defense expert, a former state medical examiner who specializes in forensic pathology, testified that the baby could have died of pneumonia. “I would not designate this as a homicide,” he said. The baby’s white blood cell count was significantly elevated, meaning “the child had a roaring infection quite some time before whatever happened here.” The parents testified that she was getting over a minor cold.
Prosecution experts said the infant died of shaken baby syndrome and would have shown symptoms immediately.
Another defense expert, a chief pediatric neurologist, said the baby’s brain might not have swelled enough to show symptoms or cause death for as long as 48 hours.
The final outcome of this case is not known.
0288: The father, 24, was accused of rapidly shaking his 2-month-old son, causing his head to rock back and forth five times. The injuries were inflicted on a Friday.
Symptoms were not noticed by the child’s mother until Sunday at 4:00 a.m. two days later. She rushed the child to the hospital that day because he wouldn’t eat and was unresponsive. He was found to have a brain hemorrhage, two broken ribs, and retinal hemorrhages. Doctors said the baby’s symptoms indicated he had been shaken. He was in a coma and they expected he would suffer neurological impairment.
On the Saturday between the shaking and the emergency room visit, the mother took the child to a pediatric outpatient clinic for a swollen ear. Doctors thought it was an ear infection and prescribed antibiotics, but noticed no signs of trauma. A prosecution medical expert said physicians would not necessarily be able to see the signs of the cranial pressure, fractured ribs and eye injuries that were found the following day at the pediatric intensive care unit. A doctor testified that the shaking could have occurred up to 48 hours before symptoms were noticed by the mother.
The father admitted to shaking the baby on Friday and was remorseful. He said he had lost his temper. The defense maintained that he made a false admission because he was led to believe that if he didn’t take the blame his family would be torn apart. At trial and sentencing, he said he was innocent, but the prosecutor said all evidence pointed to him.
He missed several court dates leading up to the trial and was believed at one time to have fled the area. He pleaded guilty to the charges of failing to appear.
He was convicted of child endangerment and sentenced to up to 10 years. The baby survived with impairments.
The baby’s mother had contacted a Department of Human Services social worker and said the defendant was not responsible for the injuries, that she shook the baby. The social worker sent an e-mail to a police detective. The statements by the mother were deemed to be inadmissible hearsay. An appeal argued that they were improperly excluded at trial. The court of appeals ruled that no error had been made.
The case was appealed to the state Supreme Court, which overturned the verdict and ordered a new trial.
0289: The mother, inebriated and a survivor of child abuse herself, said her 10-month-old baby would not stop crying. He was teething. She said his incessant crying made her feel like a bad mother. Finally, she grabbed his arm and leg and yanked him out of the stroller. She shook him like a rag doll. She then carried him to his room and placed him in his crib.
Several hours later, she returned to check on him. The baby’s breathing was raspy and there was a frothy spittle coating his mouth and faint seizures. She rushed to the phone and called for help.
At the hospital, doctors suspected abuse, As soon as police arrived, she said, “I’m the reason he’s in here. It’s my fault.” Her husband, a 22-year-old Navy crewman, was helicoptered in from his ship. Three days later, the baby died. His brain was bruised and swollen and he had retinal hemorrhages.
It wasn’t the first time she had harmed the baby. She had left him outside in the rain. At times, he was malnourished. And she had shaken him before. He had been taken away from her for two months but returned.
She was convicted and sentenced to life. She was consistently remorseful for her crime. She broke prison rules three times in 20 years. The last one was when male and female inmates were integrated for work time. She got pregnant. She gave up that child for adoption.
Her requests for parole, though strongly supported by numerous counselors and the parole board who believe she is rehabilitated, have been consistently turned down by California’s governor, most recently Governor Schwarzenegger. Historically, the parole board had the final say, but in the 1980s, the governor was given 30 days to reverse a parole board decision.
0290: The mother had left her 10-month-old son with her live-in boyfriend as she worked. The boyfriend made several unsuccessful attempts to call 911. When he did get through, he said, “I need help. My little boy’s dying. He can’t breathe.” For the next several minutes, he called out the child’s name and said, “Come on, bub, come on.” He urged the emergency squad to hurry.
As the squad arrived, he said he could not feel the boy’s pulse and the baby was “freezing cold.” The child was pronounced dead at the hospital. The medical examiner said it was an intentionally inflicted head injury.
The mother was not considered a suspect because she was not with the child at the time the emergency call was made. The boyfriend was charged with murder.
The defendant was sentenced to ten years in exchange for pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter and child endangering.
0291: The defendant, the baby’s 20-year-old father, told investigators his 8-week-old son began crying at about 4:30 a.m. He got out of bed to give him a bottle of formula. He laid down on a twin bed, laid the baby on his chest and then fell asleep. The mother woke a few hours later and found the baby dead on the concrete floor. She believed he had fallen off the bed. The young man was described as a loving teenage father. The couple were living with her grandparents at the time.
The medical examiner called it murder.
As his trial began for first degree murder, with a mandatory life sentence, he accepted a plea bargain to aggravated manslaughter and was sentenced to 10 years. More than a dozen supporters wept and hugged him goodbye.
Two years later, in a remarkable turn of events, the state attorney asked a judge to throw out the conviction and sentence. He said, “I felt in good conscience we had to walk away from it.” The medical examiner who made the original diagnosis of shaken baby syndrome was an 18-year veteran and chairman of the state commission that regulated medical examiners. Essentially, she was regulating herself. Her conclusions had been discredited in other cases. Doctors reviewing her work in this case found no evidence to support her diagnosis. “It’s kind of like I can’t be sure anymore,” said the prosecutor. I don’t see how we could just bury the new evidence and let him stay in prison.”
Although the original medical examiner said retinal hemorrhaging was visible with the naked eye, she later conducted a microscopic examination of the eye tissue and found no evidence of it. Nor could the new medical examiner. He said, “The hemorrhaging is either there or it isn’t. It doesn’t disappear.” The diagnosis had been based on the retinal hemorrhaging.
Dr. Mary Case had reviewed the original findings and agreed that it was a homicide. Despite the dismissal, the first examiner said Case “is one of the world’s leading experts on shaken baby syndrome. If Mary Case says it’s a homicide, then it is.”
The defendant commented of the medical examiner, “If she’s done this to me, I’m sure she’s done this to other people.”
0292: A licensed day care provider, 46, called 911 and said, “Baby don’t breath right now.” Police arrived and found the 7-month-old boy having seizure-like symptoms. The sitter was an illegal immigrant from Canada, who was described by others as a good mother, grandmother, sister, wife, friend and caretaker with a heart of gold who would never intentionally hurt anyone.
At the hospital, doctors found he had a bruised brain, bleeding retinas, and additional brain injuries thought to be 7-10 days old. He was diagnosed with shaken baby syndrome. He was initially thought to be blind. He remained in pediatric intensive care for months and was not expected to recover. Two years later, however, the boy’s parents said he did not seem to have any permanent injuries.
The sitter closed her day care business the day after the incident. She turned herself in and was charged with first degree assault, first degree reckless endangerment, and risk of injury to a minor. She was released after paying a $100,000 bond.
Two years later, she accepted a plea bargain and was sentenced to six months for one count of risk of injury to a minor. The baby’s mother wrote a letter saying, “After careful consideration, my husband and I don’t feel she should go to jail.” Later, she said, “She’ll be dealing with this for the rest of her life and I think that’s jail in itself.” The judge was moved by the parents’ pleas for leniency. He said, “I’m not going to impose a sentence anywhere near what you should get, but I feel jail time is appropriate.”
The defendant never admitted culpability. More than 30 supporters attended her sentencing hearing. She told the family through tears, “I’m very, very sorry for what happened and I pray for you and [the baby] every day. I’m very sorry.”
0293: The mother’s boyfriend, 29, told police the 3-year-old boy became ill and vomited while eating dinner, then lapsed into unconsciousness after he placed him in the bathtub to clean him up and left him for a moment to tend to his sister. Later, however, authorities found no evidence of vomit or that a bath had been run.
The baby died the following day in the hospital. The death was attributed to shaken baby syndrome. The baby had a broken rib, retinal bleeding, bruises and a swollen brain. The older sister was then examined and found to have a broken leg. She was removed from the home and placed with relatives. The defendant was arrested and charged with murder.
The baby’s mother was charged as an accessory. She testified against the defendant as part of a plea agreement that reduced her sentence to a little more than time served. She said she was blinded by love for the defendant and failed to recognize that he was abusing her children. She said the defendant, who was disabled as a result of injuries sustained in a car accident, would routinely watch the children.
The defense attorney maintained that the child could have been hurt by his mother prior to the defendant’s watch. The baby’s grandmother said the child had seemed frightened of the defendant.
Relatives of the defendant testified that the child’s mother had been coldly indifferent when he died. One said the mother had called her on her cell phone as she was returning from the hospital. When she tearfully broke the news that the boy had died, the mother said, “He’s gone and I’m OK with it.” There was also testimony that the mother had given the child a black eye. “I got mad at him for wetting his pants and I accidentally hit him too hard.” Several other incidents of violent behavior by the mother were chronicled.
The jury returned a verdict of guilty on the lesser included charge of second degree manslaughter. They recommended the maximum sentence, 10 years. He will be eligible for parole after two years.
0294: While the 11-month-old boy’s mother was out playing Bingo, the stepfather, 31, called saying the sickly baby was choking. He began vigorous CPR to try to save him. His defense attorney at trial said that CPR was too vigorous, and killed the child.
A paramedic testified that he heard the defendant say, “Oh my God, I killed my baby.” He had a criminal history and had previously served prison time for dealing in stolen property and theft.
He turned down a plea bargain and was tried for murder. The jury convicted and he was sentenced to life. All appeals were exhausted without success.
0295: The 4-month-old baby’s father, 24, called for help when the baby had difficulty breathing. At the hospital, doctors determined his injuries were consistent with shaken baby syndrome. The boy had been to the hospital a month earlier for a broken arm. Police and child protection had investigated and determined that injury was the result of an accident.
The father initially denied shaking the child. He offered several different versions of what happened, including that the boy fell off the bed and that he had fallen while carrying the child.
The father was arrested and charged with first degree assault. He was held on a $300,000 bond or $150,000 cash. After the baby died, the charges were upped to second degree murder, first degree manslaughter, endangering the welfare of a child, and third degree assault for the earlier injury.
A year after the baby’s death, he pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of first degree manslaughter and was sentenced to 20 years.
0296: The nanny, 23, was engaged by a professional couple to watch their twin 7-month-old daughters. Three weeks into the job, one of the girls suffered a brain hemorrhage.
At about 1:00 p.m., the baby was rushed to the hospital. The nanny told the baby’s father that she believed the child had banged her head on a coffee table. She had been in the kitchen cleaning up when she heard the child crying. When she looked in the living room, her head was close to the leg of the coffee table. She was “floppy”
Doctors said the brain hemorrhage could not have been caused by the fall described. “[The nanny] was responsible for what occurred at that house, as only she was with that little girl on that morning. There is no other reasonable explanation for those injuries that the child was found to have sustained,” said the prosecutor.
In an unusual turn of events, the judge on the second day of the trial, after being told that the prosecution had no other evidence to present, advised the jury to return a not guilty verdict. The case had relied entirely on expert witness evidence, which he did not consider sufficient to sustain a guilty verdict.
The baby recovered.
0297: A 4-month-old girl was brought to the hospital and New Years Day. She had been vomiting and was lethargic. Doctors suspected child abuse and contacted police.
Police went to a Quality Inn Motel room where a 4-month-old girl had been staying with her 22-year-old father and 20-year-old mother. Both parents were arrested and charged with attempted first degree murder and felony child abuse. They were jailed on $1,000,000 bond each.
A pediatrician told reporters you can’t hide shaken baby syndrome. “It takes quite a bit of force to shake a baby like that and have the neck go back and forth to cause the brain to move inside the skull and tear those vessels,” she said.
The outcome of this case is not known.
0298: This case did not involve a child. The defendant, 41, broke into his former girlfriend’s house in the early morning hours and found her sleeping with another man. He abused her and then violently shook the man she was with. He then began to beat her up but a neighbor intervened.
The woman went to check on the man who had been shaken and heard him snoring. She spent the night with a neighbor, fearing the attacker would return. The next morning, a neighbor checked on the man and found him dead. An autopsy indicated that he suffered retinal hemorrhages and brain injuries similar to those found in shaken baby syndrome.
The attacker had a long criminal history of violence. He was charged with First Degree Reckless Homicide, three counts of Battery, Criminal Trespass to a Dwelling, Intimidation of a Victim and eight counts of Bail Jumping. The first count was reduced to Aggravated Battery —Intended Bodily Harm because prosecutors could not prove that he went to his ex-girlfriend’s home with an intent to kill. He pleaded no contest and was sentenced to 8 years in prison and 16 years of extended supervision.
0299: The babysitter, a Vietnamese immigrant who speaks little English, was watching a 10-month-old baby girl for a Vietnamese couple. She had cared for her since she was 2 months old. On the day in question, the baby was dropped off at about noon. Five hours later, the sitter placed a hysterical call to 911 saying the girl had fallen out of a foot-high bouncy seat and was having trouble breathing.
Paramedics said that as soon as they saw the girl’s behavior and symptoms, they did not feel her injuries could be due to a fall. At the hospital, she was found brain dead. She had massive brain bleeding. The right half of her brain had shifted onto the left side, creating immense pressure that pushed down onto her brain stem and caused a stroke. Much of her skull was removed to release the pressure.
The defense highlighted the controversy surrounding shaken baby syndrome and suggested that the girl’s brain could have been previously injured, that the small fall could have pushed her into a medical crisis.
The defense did not call any witnesses.
Jurors deliberated several days before returning a guilty verdict on third degree assault, acquitting on first and second degree assault which required proof of intent. The sentence was 1-3 months. The baby lived but is brain dead.
0300: The mother’s boyfriend, 25, was alone with her 31-month-old girl while the mother shopped. He said he left her alone for about five minutes to go upstairs to the bathroom. When he returned, she was face down with her arms by her side. He thought she was probably dying. He began mouth-to-mouth breathing. He ran outside a few times to look for the mother, then returned and continued with the breathing. He did not call 911. He said they didn’t have a phone and he didn’t know any neighbors whose phone he could use.
Rescue personnel were called 15 minutes after the mother returned. The child died the next day. Autopsy results showed a cerebral hemorrhage, a skull fracture, many bruises and bleeding from her ears.
The mother’s rights to two other children had been terminated due to neglect.
The defense attorney argued that the police focused on his client because he is a man. The mother had been reported to child protective services three or four times for suspected abuse. She was not investigated in this case. The defendant was charged with felony child abuse resulting in death.
Defense attorneys planned to argue that the girl’s mother could also be a suspect, but he pleaded guilty prior to trial and was sentenced to 24-30 years.
Go on to read Cases 301 - 400
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