Shaken Baby Syndrome: Case Summaries 301 - 400
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.
0301: The defendant is an Australian citizen and basketball notable, 29. He was visiting the United States on business when an 11-month-old child of a host family was taken to the hospital and diagnosed with shaken baby syndrome. No differential diagnoses were considered. The baby was treated and released. The visitor was arrested and jailed.
The defendant insisted he was innocent. A number of other people had had custody of the child during the time she was alleged to have been injured, but suspicion immediately focused on him. He was eventually released on bail and forced to remain in the U.S. for 7 months for court proceedings. His visa expired and he had no income. He departed the U.S. after exhausting all avenues to remain legally.
Seven months later, Australian Federal officers arrested him at a basketball stadium where he was coaching. The U.S. court had requested extradition. He was kept in a maximum security prison in Australia for over 11 months awaiting extradition proceedings. When the time came, he was given just 20 minutes’ notice to pack and vacate his prison cell, then, accompanied by U.S. federal marshals, he flew 32 hours back to the U.S. county where the baby lived. Bond was set at $5 million, the highest in state history.
He was convicted at trial and sentenced to 7 years. His wife and family submitted petitions to the Australian government signed by 535 people, asserting the American state had violated the Treaty on Extradition between Australia and the U.S. and complaining that he suffered from chronic fatigue syndrome and suspected tuberculosis contracted in unhygienic conditions in the jail. They asserted that he had been denied medical assistance. The complaint did not achieve its desired results.
The man served 3 years before returning home to Australia to serve his parole. His appeal to overturn the conviction was rejected.
“I am 100% innocent of the charge I am accused of,” he said. “The wrongs will be corrected, and I continue to stand for what I believe in, and fight for what is right...justice.” He was very upset with the Australian government for cooperating with American authorities without his knowledge and claimed they repeatedly violated the Privacy Act by disclosing private, confidential and legally sensitive documents to prosecutors.
The baby recovered.
0302: The sitter, 29, who had a licensed day care in her home, noticed that a 14-month-old boy in her care was pale and vomiting. He was taken to the hospital where doctors said his injuries were consistent with shaken baby syndrome. The baby was in intensive care on a respirator for a week.
The sitter had had no complaints or hints of trouble during the two years she had been in the business.
The mother started wearing thin red and white ribbons tied with an angel safety pin as a reminder of all victims of shaken baby syndrome. The parents started a web site, sought publicity, and strongly criticized the state’s day care system, saying they would never again leave their child with a sitter.
The sitter pleaded guilty to the reduced charge of child abuse. Part of the agreement required her to disclose exactly what happened the day the baby was injured. The parents were relieved to hear her say the word “guilty”. They were upset with her for not showing remorse or taking responsibility for the injuries.
In her explanation, she said the boy was kicking and flailing as she changed his diaper. She was holding him about 18 inches from the floor when he kicked her in the stomach. On reflex, she shoved him away from her and his body arched headfirst into her carpet. An expert in eye damage later insisted that the blood in the boy’s eyes could not be explained by her account.
She tearfully pleaded for leniency, saying she never intended to hurt the boy. “I’m truly, truly sorry. I pray for him every day.” Her attorney sought probation.
Members of the baby’s family wore T-shirts at the sentencing hearing that said “Justice for Hunter.”
The judge sentenced the sitter to 5 years at a different hearing, at which the baby’s family members wore T-shirts with his picture on it and the words “No excuse for child abuse.” The mother said, “I can forgive her now.” The father said, “She has to pay for what she has done.”
The sitter appeared stunned when the sentence was read. She was given 10 minutes to say goodbye to her husband, her two children, and her parents before being taken away in handcuffs.
The baby’s mother said, “People so often get caught up in anger. But the heart of a child is so pure, and his love is so unconditional. He probably forgave her the second that it happened.” The baby recovered.
0303: The sitter, 26, was caring for the 13-week-old girl in her home when the baby began to choke. She told police she “kept shaking and patting” the infant in an attempt to get him to breathe while making the emergency call.
The baby’s injuries were later attributed to shaken baby syndrome.
The sitter had no criminal history or record of any kind of violent behavior.
At her sentencing hearing, she offered a tearful apology. “I am very sorry for what happened. I know I made a bad decision, and I am sorry for that. I didn’t want her to die in my arms. I know I made a mistake and need to be punished for what I did.”
0304: The father, a 27-year-old soldier, was charged with capital murder in the death of his 2-month-old daughter. She suffered from broken ribs, retinal bleeding, and other injuries. Her twin sister had been hospitalized a week earlier after suffering seizures. She also had retinal hemorrhages.
The case concluded with a plea bargain, wherein the State abandoned the capital murder count and the defendant pleaded guilty to murder and was given a life sentence. He attempted to appeal, but had, on the day the sentence was imposed, signed a written waiver of appeal. A federal writ of habeas corpus followed some years later.
0305: On the 3-month-old girl’s third day in day care, the sitter, 57, put her down for a nap in a car seat. When she went to pick her up, she was very lethargic. She didn’t stretch. The sitter tried to give her a bottle but there was no reaction. She rubbed the baby’s back and legs and talked to her. “She was very still,” she testified.
The sitter carried the baby to the kitchen. “Her eyes were not open. They were not closed. They were like half open.” She put a towel with cold water on the baby’s neck and head, but still no reaction. She pulled her head back to see if the airway was clogged and the baby made a sound like “ahh.” The child was “very, very limp” and looked “paler and whiter.” Her head was lolling back.
She called 911 with a report of a baby in distress, saying, “She’s not breathing.” The baby was taken to the hospital. The sitter was indicted three months later on murder charges and released on $10,000 bail. A separate issue was that she was watching more than the number of children allowed in an unlicensed day care. She had been cited three times before for caring for more children than the law allowed.
She insisted she had not shaken or abused the child. She had cared for the baby’s older brother for three and a half years.
A biomechanical engineer testified for the defense, saying it was possible an older child in the day care had hurt the baby.
After 12 hours of deliberation, the jury found her guilty of the least charge available to them, “involuntary manslaughter by wanton and reckless actions.” None of them would make eye contact with her. It was the least of four charges they could have found. She was sentenced to 3-5 years. The parents, who had trusted the sitter completely for the years she watched their children, were very emotional. The father called her “an evil coward” for not owning up to what happened. The mother said, “I guess I had to hear for myself to accept the fact that she is not the person I thought she was.”
The defense attorney explained that the reason his client did not feel remorseful was because she was innocent. The prosecution’s story was a “revision of history” and she was not, as alleged, a “callous person.” The judge had received 250 letters of support from parents and children who she had taken care of in the past. He cited her age (57) as a factor in his sentencing decision.
The prosecutor said, “This did not happen because of an accident. Shaken baby syndrome is the only explanation for her death.”
An appeal was unsuccessful.
0306: A 13-month-old boy was taken by parents to the hospital. He was unresponsive and not breathing. The mother, 32, said he had been knocking his head on the floor. He had been born four months premature and was in Neonatal Intensive Care for two months. Doctors saw signs of possible child abuse, bruises on the baby’s wrists and legs and bruises on the lower body area. He also had severe head injuries.
The crime scene unit came and took pictures and went into the home. It took most of a day, according to a neighbor. The mother was arrested and charged with homicide by child abuse. The couple’s other sons, 6 and 10, were taken into protective custody.
Neighbors were shocked. One neighbor who had been trained to recognize signs of child abuse said she never saw or heard anything that would have raised her suspicions. “I never heard of any noise, any unusual situations occurring. The mom, you know, she drives trucks. She was rarely home. And when she did come home you know the house was peaceful and quiet just as it is now. I really grieve for them. And my prayers really go out to them.”
Two years later, she was convicted at trial. The treating physician said the injuries “would not under any circumstances have been caused by typical child’s play or roughhousing.” He said the baby would have lost consciousness in “seconds to a minute” after being shaken or hit so forcefully. “The amount of force required for injuries of the extent the baby had is comparable to a child being struck by a car, falling out of a second-floor window or being in a car wreck at 40 to 50 mph.”
The public defender said the burden of proof had not been met. “What is the state’s proof? That she was with the baby when he stopped breathing? That she can’t explain what happened to him? Ladies and gentlemen, that is not proof beyond a reasonable doubt.”
She maintained her innocence, saying, “I’ve had two years to sit and think about everything that happened that day. And I can’t see anything I did that I wouldn’t have done any other day. As for my crime, I wish I knew what it was. ... All I know is I love my children with all my heart and I would do anything for him.”
“I don’t know what happened to him, and I wish to God I did,” she said through tears and sobs. “I didn’t accept a lesser plea because I didn’t do anything wrong. I know I didn’t harm my son in any way.”
0307: The mother’s boyfriend, 20, was watching her three children, including a 5-month-old baby girl. He became frustrated with the baby’s continued crying and shook her. In court, he called it “a dumb idea.”
He left the house when the mother returned home. She noticed that her daughter was sluggish and had a dazed look. When her boyfriend returned, they called an ambulance.
A CT scan showed retinal hemorrhaging, bruising in the eyes and intracranial hemorrhaging. Shaken baby syndrome was diagnosed. In a letter he wrote to the baby’s mother shortly after the incident, the defendant wrote, “I never tried to hurt her. I did everything to keep her from crying and in the mix I did hurt her. I hope that both of you could forgive me. I tried the bottle, the pacifier and baby food. It just wouldn’t work and I pick her up and shooked her so she would stop crying, not to hurt her.”
The baby survived and long term damage was possible but not certain.
The defendant was sentenced to five years with three suspended for malicious wounding as part of a plea bargain. He will be required to attend anger management classes and a parenting class, and could have no further contact with the baby or her siblings.
0308: In the two short months of the baby’s life, he was taken to the doctor numerous times. The complaint was irritability, feeding problems and low-grade fever. The father, who had recently been released from the military, was the primary caregiver. About a week before the baby’s collapse, the child was admitted to the hospital. The doctor conducted a spinal tap. There was a small amount of blood in the fluid but the doctor attributed it to an error in inserting the needle. During the week that followed, the child was taken to the doctor three more times. The doctors found no significant problems.
One day, when the defendant was alone with the baby and his four-year-old sister, “all of a sudden, he started gagging, and stuff was all coming from his nose and mouth.” He called his wife at work. She came home and they called 911. The baby arrived at the hospital brain dead.
The doctor ordered x-rays and a CT scan, which revealed a skull fracture and an older collection of blood. The child had an epidural hemorrhage and a subdural hematoma. Retinal hemorrhages were used to diagnose shaken baby syndrome. Doctors opined that the first visit to the hospital may have been precipitated by another shaking episode, less severe.
The father denied shaking or harming his son. He said that the baby had a cold and had slept from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. on the day of his collapse. Under police interrogation, he admitted he may have shaken or kicked the baby when he was desperately trying to revive him.
A jury convicted him of second degree murder and felonious child abuse. He was sentenced to 25 years. On appeal, the trial court’s judgment was affirmed, both in the court of appeals and by the state Supreme Court.
0309: The defendant was watching his own two children and a 2-year-old nephew. His own girls were upstairs asleep. He said he left the boy on a couch and went into another room to get a diaper. When he returned, the child was on the floor having breathing problems.
Doctors diagnosed massive bleeding of the brain and bilateral retinal hemorrhages.
The uncle was charged with battery resulting in death for inflicting a “closed head injury “by shaking, bouncing, hitting and/or causing blunt force trauma to the head.” Eleven doctors testified for the prosecution. One testified for the defense.
He was convicted and sentenced to 30 years. An appeal was unsuccessful.
The defendant’s wife stated at the sentencing that she still didn’t believe her husband killed the boy. “No one in this courtroom can look me in the face and tell me, over 30 years of life, a man within 40 minutes changed his entire personality.” Her sister, mother of the baby who died, said, “I think he deserves to spend the whole 50 years in jail, and I hope the court shows no mercy for him.”
0310: The night before the baby was rushed to the hospital, his babysitter called a child abuse hot line to report that the 7-month-old boy had severe bruising and what appeared to be cigarette burns on his hand.
The next morning, a call was made to 911 that the baby wasn’t breathing.
The mother’s boyfriend, 23, confessed and showed remorse. He pleaded guilty to felony manslaughter in a plea bargain and was sentenced to 15 years.
0311: This case was appealed all the way to the United States Supreme Court.
The baby boy was one of twins. They were born premature but were otherwise healthy. The parents hired a full-time babysitter, 24, to care for the boys and their older sister. The week the nanny became the full-time carer, one of the twins became ill. He appeared to be achy and vomited several times. A doctor diagnosed stomach flu and suggested Pedialyte. Two weeks before the baby’s collapse, he was seen by his pediatrician for a well-baby exam.
The following week, the baby seemed achy. He vomited several times over the next several days but had no fever. On the day of his death, the sitter reported that the baby had eaten well and taken two 5-hour naps. The nanny went home between 5:30 and 6:00 and the mother and later her parents were with the baby until 7:30 when the father arrived home. The baby vomited again that evening. Late at night, they heard the sick baby whimpering. The father took him downstairs and tried to get him comfortable so he would fall asleep. Within a half hour, the baby’s breathing became labored. The mother was awakened and could not get him to respond. 911 was called.
By the time rescue workers arrived, the baby had no pulse and was not breathing. His skin was blue. He died two days later.
The coroner concluded the baby died from shaken baby syndrome. He estimated the time of injury was within minutes of the baby’s respiratory arrest, at most within 2-3 hours.
The father was charged with involuntary manslaughter. The key issue was timing. The defense theory was that the nanny had inflicted the abuse. The baby’s ill health had begun the week she took over care. No one else in the family had been sick with the flu, even the twin who slept in the same crib. X-rays showed broken ribs on both boys.
The babysitter was subpoenaed but invoked her Fifth Amendment privilege and refused to testify. Her attorney advised the court that she would not testify unless granted full immunity from prosecution. The court granted immunity. She testified and denied all culpability.
The father was convicted and sentenced to five years. He appealed, all the way to the United States Supreme Court. The issue was whether a witness who claimed innocence could also take the Fifth Amendment. The Supreme Court said yes.
The case was then appealed back to the state Supreme Court, which ruled that granting the sitter immunity could have hindered the defense by sending a message to the jury that the sitter did not cause the injuries. They overturned the verdict and the prosecutor decided not to try the case again. Two years of the sentence had been served.
0312: A trusted family friend, 18, was watching a 6-month boy. He had been watching him for three months, five days a week. One morning he called 911, saying the baby had unexpectedly lurched backward and fell off a bed onto a carpeted floor about 20 inches below.
Within 13 minutes of the baby’s arrival at the hospital, doctors were calling it shaken baby syndrome. They later found subdural hematoma and retinal hemorrhaging.
According to the National Center for Shaken Baby Syndrome, “Symptoms consistent with shaken baby syndrome, including unconsciousness caused by swelling and bleeding around the brain, are instant and cannot be caused by accident.” The sitter was arrested, charged with child abuse, and released after posting a $25,000 bond.
Family friends were shocked. “I’ve never seen him lose his temper with an adult, let alone a child,” said one. A man who lives in the other half of the duplex told police he did not hear any crying, yelling or fighting that morning.
At the trial, the mother tearfully described how much she liked and trusted the defendant, and how happy the baby was when he was with him. She said she was sometimes jealous of the bond between them and thought he was a godsend from heaven.
Several doctors testified for the prosecution. One testified for the defense. She said the baby’s traumatic birth could have been a factor. He got stuck in the birth canal and doctors had to grip his head using forceps and pull him out. He had also fallen out of a stroller and hit his head on concrete. There was an older hematoma in the brain.
After 2.5 hours of deliberation, the jury’s verdict was “not guilty” on all charges. They said the prosecution did not present enough evidence to prove its case. Only one juror initially wanted to convict, but after deliberation, her mind was changed.
“A lot of it came down to them making their decision within 13 minutes of that baby getting to the hospital,” said one juror. “Everybody testified he was loving to that baby; he would never hurt that baby.”
The prosecutor suggested the jury might have been confused by conflicting testimony from various doctors, but jurors said there was no confusion, just not enough evidence.
“I think, speaking for everyone, it was just a tragic accident. We felt for the family; we felt sorry for what happened, but we just could not convict him of anything. I don’t know if they hate us for that or if they don’t. But we just didn’t have enough evidence. It doesn’t make sense to put somebody behind bars that doesn’t deserve to be there,” said the juror.
0313: The sitter, 20, was married to the nephew of the mother of a 5-month-old girl. “I’d known her for two years. She had a little girl and I thought she was my friend,” said the mother.”
Four hours after the baby came into her care, she called 911. She told police she had left the child on the bed while she spent about three minutes in the bathroom, and returned to find the infant not breathing. Paramedics found the baby breathing but in obvious distress. En route to the hospital, she began having seizures.
A doctor told the parents their daughter had been intentionally hurt, that it was no accident.
The baby was cared for by four different people, but police said the sitter was the only one with the opportunity to hurt the baby. Police noticed that she “has chosen not to cooperate.” (Presumably she asserted her Fifth Amendment rights.) She was arrested and released on $50,000 bond.
She took a plea agreement, pleading guilty to the charge of injury to a child. She later said she was confused by the plea agreement and was not guilty. “I am very sorry for what happened to the baby, but I would never, ever hurt a baby,” she told the judge.
She was sentenced to 27 years. “I just wish it was longer,” said the child’s mother.
0314: The father, 22, was watching the couple’s 5-month-old son while his wife worked. At approximately 9:30 a.m., he called 911 saying the baby was having difficulty breathing and was in need of immediate medical attention. The emergency room physician and the baby’s pediatrician immediately suspected abuse. The child had a “subdural hematoma, bilateral retinal hemorrhages and other neurological trauma and closed head injury consistent with having been shaken in a deliberate and repetitive manner,” said the doctors.
The father initially denied allegations of child abuse. The day the baby died, he admitted to “bouncing the baby up and down without supporting his head.”
He was convicted and sentenced to 14-20 years. The prosecutor said he refused to accept responsibility for deliberate actions that led to the death. “It is tragic and incomprehensible that a parent could do this to their own child.”
0315: The sitter, 45, was taking care of an 11-week-old boy, the son of a friend, and three of her own grandchildren at her home.
When the mother came to pick him up, she found him in a crib. He appeared to be sleeping, but when she lifted him, she noticed that his body was limp and that he was unresponsive. She took him to the hospital and doctors informed detectives that the baby’s injuries were consistent with shaken-baby-syndrome.
The sitter was arrested, charged with felony child abuse, and held on $20,000 bail.
She asked for a plea agreement, but the judge told her only the district attorney could offer one. He didn’t. The day before jury selection was to begin, she pleaded guilty. She was sentenced to 20 years.
The baby lost vision in one eye and suffered brain damage, but is improving.
0316: The sitter, 46, called 911 to report that a 4-month-old baby in her care was not breathing. He was airlifted to a major children’s hospital, where he died. Experts said he exhibited signs of shaken baby syndrome.
The sitter was arrested, charged with first degree murder, and held on $500,000 bond.
The prosecutor asked the jury to convict based on circumstantial evidence. "This crime is done in secret," he said. "We may never know what exactly she did. We know she did something to cause the death of the baby."
The defense made much of the fact that prosecution experts did not all reach the same conclusions. There was too much of a rush to judgment, they alleged.
Four years after the baby's death, at the end of a two-week trial with numerous expert witnesses, the jury cleared the sitter of wrongdoing. There was standing room only in the courtroom when the verdict was read.
0317: A 17-month-old boy vomited after eating potatoes and later died. A brain injury was attributed to attempts by the mother’s boyfriend to revive the child. No police investigation was conducted.
The baby’s family doctor asked a child-abuse expert to review the case. There were old injuries suggestive of abuse as well as a subdural hematoma. The expert believed the child had been murdered.
Six years after the baby’s death, a newspaper reported this as one of a dozen suspicious child deaths. It cited bungled police investigations, missed clues, and officials who don’t pursue hard questions. “Suspicious deaths,” it reported, “are written off as sudden infant death syndrome, natural or accidental.” The suggestion was made that official statistics significantly underestimate how many children die due to abuse and neglect. The fact that the state’s infant homicide rate is low was attributed to a short-circuit in the death investigation system.
“The current system is not adequate to distinguish between maltreatment deaths and accidents,” said a child abuse doctor. “People are getting away with murder—literally.”
The legislature was approached to pass laws to require that child deaths be reported to a central authority. One legislator said, “[Babies are] still human beings and they ought to have the same rights as anyone else. The people who perpetrate these acts don’t get the same level of punishment.” A new child-death investigation protocol was suggested. The coroner system came under attack.
After the newspaper report, the coroner agreed to look into the death again, but in the end stood by his first conclusion after “a very extensive reinvestigation of the case”. Legislators lobbied the governor to order an external investigation after a national child abuse doctor became involved.
The prosecutor said the cause of death would have to be changed before a criminal investigation could proceed. Prosecuting the case would be impossible, he said, unless the coroner agreed it was a homicide.
The state governor intervened to order an external investigation by the Attorney General’s Office. After reinvestigating, they declined to file charges. Conflicting medical evidence, they said, makes it impossible to reach a firm conclusion. While some doctors claimed the subdural hematoma meant abuse, not all doctors agreed and the charge could not be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.
0318: The father, 19 at the time the baby was born, quit his job to care for he baby and his girlfriend’s other two children. Three months later on Christmas Eve, according to his account, he placed the baby on a pallet of blankets and pillows so he could watch him while he took a shower. The baby began to cry. The father jumped out of the shower and tried to give him a bottle. When he refused to take it, he quickly picked the baby up underneath its armpits. His head rolled back and he stopped crying. He wasn’t breathing. Investigators said the sudden, violent motion caused severe brain damage.
“I know I picked him up quick, but I didn’t pick him up quick to hurt him,” he said. “I just picked him up quick to hold him in my arms and get him to stop crying.”
There were no grab marks on the baby’s body and no damage to the neck, but doctors attributed his death to shaken baby syndrome. He had a subdural hematoma.
The defendant’s attorneys requested a Frye hearing to make inadmissible testimony that the baby exhibited injuries consistent with “shaken baby syndrome” on the basis that the theory has not gained general acceptance in the relevant scientific community.
The first trial resulted in a hung jury. At the second trial, the jury acquitted on first degree murder but convicted on aggravated child abuse. The defendant was sentenced to five years, two of which he had already served by the time of the trial.
0319: The father, a 42-year-old Uruguayan who had been living illegally in the United States for 17 years, told authorities that he tended to his 10-week-old daughter when he got home from work at 1:30 a.m. He got her to sleep but she awoke an hour later, crying. He tried everything he knew to comfort her, unsuccessfully.
Authorities say he then shook her back and forth, and she went limp, never regaining consciousness. A teenage stepdaughter called 911. An autopsy revealed brain injuries and retinal hemorrhaging, which doctors said was consistent with shaken baby syndrome.
Prosecutors told the judge the man had no prior history of child abuse and what happened was “clearly not intended.” Nevertheless, what he did was a crime. He was charged with aggravated manslaughter and criminal endangerment. Bail was set at $200,000.
More than two years later, the father cried and rocked in his seat as he pleaded guilty to manslaughter. The maximum sentence would be three years, and he had already spent more than two years in jail awaiting trial, so he would be immediately eligible for parole. He was expected to be deported upon his release.
This case prompted the prosecutor to have his staff develop an outreach program on shaken baby syndrome to educate people through schools, PTAs and hospitals. “I’d be in favor of any type of education that lets someone know that they can harm their child,” he said. “But the violent nature of the shaking that would result in this type of case is, in my opinion, just common knowledge, just common sense.
0320: The mother, 22, told police she found her 5-month-old son on his back, not breathing, and with sweatpants covering his face. She said it was her second child that had died and she was contemplating suicide.
A few days later, she told police she had lied and she had found him lying face down on a pile of clothes and dead. She admitted to smoking marijuana the night before the baby’s death. Another son, 2 months, had died under similar circumstances 18 months earlier. Both deaths were attributed to SIDS. The mother was arrested only because she had lied to police.
There were many difficulties in the family. The babies’ father was accused of assaulting the mother. She attempted suicide twice after the first baby’s death, not knowing she was pregnant the second time. She had a history of “violent interactions” with her parents and had dealt drugs while living with them.
In a plea bargain, she was sentenced to 90 days + 6 years probation for child abuse negligently causing death.
The state Department of Human Services chastised county authorities for not ensuring the safety of the children in that home. They classified the family as at “medium risk” whereas they were in fact at “high risk” said the report.
0321: The mother thought her 5-month-old daughter was sick when the sitter called. She left work to go to the day-care provider’s home. “I didn’t know how bad it was until I got there. She never told me that she wouldn’t wake up. She said she was in a deep sleep.”
The mother rushed the baby to the hospital. Doctors suspected shaken baby syndrome because the girl suffered serious brain injuries with no signs of trauma. Had there been an accident, the doctor said, he would have seen external injuries. The baby’s brain swelled, and four surgeries were needed to relieve the pressure. She survived but suffers from impaired vision and cerebral palsy.
The sitter gave several stories. She first told investigators she put the child in a swing and then heard a “piercing cry”. She found the girl “lifeless and limp.” Later she said the girl simply went limp when she picked her up. She also said the baby had fallen from a chair. Under police questioning, she said she accidentally dropped the girl onto a hardwood floor and landed on top of her when she tripped over the dog.
15 months after the incident, the sitter pleaded no contest to first-degree child abuse.
The mother of the brain damaged infant pleaded with the judge to “show no mercy because she showed no mercy to my daughter that day.” The judge exceeded the maximum sentence of 5 years, sentencing the sitter to 6-15 years.
Two years after her trial, she was suffering with advanced brain and lung cancer. She was one of 500 sick, dying, and elderly inmates recommended for medical commutation, partly to relieve the state’s budget crisis. Although she had no previous record and the baby survived, the Attorney General’s office objected to the commutation in her case, saying she had only served 2.5 years of her sentence. Doctors gave her three months to a year to live. She will die in prison.
0322: The mother wanted to get an abortion when she was pregnant with the baby girl. Her boyfriend at the time and now husband wanted to adopt the child.
For two days prior to her collapse, the baby had been sick and vomiting. She was being treated with phenarin and Xanax. On the day of her collapse at 23 months, the mother had gone on a school field trip with an older daughter and left the child alone with her stepfather.
The little girl had at least 26 bruises on her face, head and neck, two skull fractures, a broken arm and two broken wrists. Some of the injuries had healed or partially healed. She died because of intracranial bleeding, a secondary condition of blunt force trauma or shaken baby syndrome. Both mother and stepfather were charged with murder.
The defense attorney blamed the child’s mother, who by the time of the stepfather’s trial was serving a life sentence for the murder. She had pleaded guilty without a plea bargain, thinking she was getting 10-12 years. She was sentenced instead to life in prison. A deputy who had spent time with her during the delivery of her last child said she was going to take the fall for her husband. The mother admitted she “flew off the handle” and beat the child. Witnesses had seen her grabbing and jerking the child. The mother admitted that she “grabbed” the toddler too hard in an attempt to discipline her. She also said she had been drinking and taking drugs before the incident.
The prosecution alleged that the defendant’s father, who had 20 years’ experience as a deputy coroner, manipulated the mother into confessing so that his son could get away with murder.
The defense argued that no evidence indicated the stepfather had ever hit the child. Against his attorney’s advice, the defendant took the stand. He denied hurting the child.
The day of his conviction, he caused a disturbance as he was being transported from the jail to the courtroom. It took 6-8 deputies to get him under control. The judge subsequently closed the courtroom to media and family members and instructed that jurors were to be escorted out if he caused another disturbance. After the “guilty” verdict, he asked his attorney, “What makes them think I’m guilty of anything?”
He was sentenced to life in prison.
0323: Eleven days before the 11-month-old baby’s collapse, he was taken to the doctor for a “nasty croupy cough.” The doctor recommended Robitussin.
Eight days prior, he was lethargic, didn’t eat well, and slept more than usual. He began vomiting. He was taken to a doctor who said it was probably a stomach virus.
Seven days prior, the mother stayed home from work and took him to a different medical clinic. The doctor prescribed antibiotics and a nasal decongestant. He went back to the same doctor the following day. He remained lethargic but was not vomiting as much.
Four days prior, he improved somewhat and was able to eat. In the evening, he was restless, crying, and pulling at the sides of his head as though he had an ear infection. He slept fitfully.
Three days prior, he started vomiting again and was really fussy. He cried a lot He was taken to the doctor again, who said there was fluid in the baby’s ears. He said to keep him on antibiotics and give him Pedialyte. The victim cried most of the night. When not crying, he was lethargic and would not play.
The day prior, the baby went to the doctor again. The doctor suggested he might be having an allergic reaction to the decongestant and it should no longer be used.
The day of the baby’s collapse, he was taken to the sitter, 19. He looked pale and slept most of the day. At about 2:45, the sitter woke the baby to get him ready to go home. She changed his diaper and sat him on the floor. She was in the next room throwing away the diaper when she heard him fall over. When she picked him up, he was stiff and unresponsive. She couldn’t get a response, so ran with him to a neighbor’s house, where she left her own child. A nearby clinic was closed, so she flagged down a friend passing by. The emergency room doctor immediately suspected child abuse. A CT scan revealed an extensive subdural hematoma and three skull fractures. The child also had retinal hemorrhages. He survived, but is likely to have some permanent brain damage.
The babysitter initially denied harming the child. However, after police interrogation, she signed a statement written by a special agent saying that two days before the baby’s collapse, she had been frustrated and upset with the baby. She had picked him up and shaken him, and while he was shaken his head hit a bookshelf. She even showed the police officer where the baby’s head had hit. She was arrested and charged with first degree assault. She claimed her confession had been coerced.
At the trial, one doctor said the injury did not occur more than ten days to two weeks before the baby’s collapse. He did not narrow the time frame further.
The sitter was convicted of first degree assault and sentenced to 10 years. Her failure to obtain timely medical care was central to the prosecution’s case. Even the prosecutor admitted, however, that if she didn’t inflict the injuries, how could she be held accountable for not informing doctors of them? The child had been to the doctor five times in the eleven days prior to his collapse.
The case was appealed all the way to the state Supreme Court, which granted a new trial on the basis of flawed jury instructions.
0324: The mother, 17, was home alone with her 22-month-old son. In her first statement, she said she left the child alone for a few minutes and returned to find him distressed. The detective said that was not consistent with his injuries and a second interview with a female officer was conducted. In that interview, the defendant confessed to shaking the baby in a fit of anger resulting from frustrations in her life.
Because the defendant had not been arrested by that time, she was not read her Miranda rights. The interview was not videotaped. The defense attorney requested that statements made at that interview be removed from evidence. His request was denied.
The doctor said the symptoms could only have been caused by shaken baby syndrome due to the retinal hemorrhages in both eyes and because no plausible story was offered to explain the symptoms.
The mother was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to 15 years.
0325: The mother’s live-in boyfriend, 28, was caring for her 2-year-old son while she was at work. He called 911 to report that the baby was unresponsive. At the hospital, the boy was found to have brain swelling and retinal hemorrhages but no skull fracture.
He told authorities the boy had been bouncing on a couch. The defendant left to get some juice and returned to find the boy on the floor. He thought the boy had choked and removed some food from his mouth. Medical experts said the injuries were inflicted and inconsistent with that story.
In the weeks leading up to his hospitalization, he had been injured three separate times, each while defendant was caring for him. One he attributed to a mishap on a slide and another to a fall on some stairs.
He was arrested and charged with assault and battery on a child causing substantial bodily injury. Bail was set at $250,000 and was later reduced to $100,000.
The child survived what were believed to be life-threatening injuries and seemed to be recovering, although there may be long-term damage.
The defense lawyer said it was the position of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers that there is “no such thing as shaken baby syndrome.”
The mother supported her boyfriend and said she believed he was innocent. “I think it’s fair to say she is in denial,” said the prosecutor.
Five years after the incident, the defendant pleaded guilty and was placed on 10 years probation. By that time, the mother had changed her stance. "He should be in prison," she said, pointing to her handicapped son. "My son's in his prison."
0326: Four months after the suspicious death of a 28-month-old baby girl, her father's girlfriend, 19, was arrested and charged with second degree murder and abuse of a child resulting in death. She had been watching the baby after the father went to work when, she said, she "became upset and shoved her to the ground twice from behind." She then carried her to the playpen and left her there. Hours later, when she went to check on the baby, she was having a seizure. She screamed for help and 911 was called.
A doctor found a subdural hemorrhage and said the injuries were from "non-accidental trauma due to the rapid acceleration and deceleration of the brain", possibly due to shaking. Bond was set at $300,000 and the judge refused to lower it. Police said she confessed after giving several accounts of what happened, including saying maybe the father had shaken the baby and maybe the landlord was responsible.
The state was granted a continuance more than two years later. The venue was changed to a different county.
Following a five-day trial, the jury deliberated for three hours before returning a verdict of guilty. The sentence was 40 years.
0327: The nanny, hired with excellent references, initially claimed the 10-week-old baby rolled from a couch. Rescue workers found him unconscious and suffering from massive brain hemorrhages. He had two skull fractures, one of which was depressed, and retinal hemorrhages in his right eye. Doctors diagnosed shaken baby syndrome.
After three hours of police questioning, the sitter, 28, admitted that she shook the child. According to a police detective, she used a stuffed bear to demonstrate how she shook the child and then tapped him on the face to wake him up. The defense attorney later argued that this alleged confession should not be used because police “put words in her mouth.” No attorney or Spanish interpreter had been present. During the interview, police lied to her and told her the family videotaped her because they suspected her of stealing.
After her arrest, numerous people commended her care for their children. She was a veteran child care giver with a bevy of references.
She was arrested and charged with three counts of felony child abuse. She was initially held on $200,000 bond. The prosecutor asked for it to be increased to $1 million and the judge granted that request.
The baby spent a week in the hospital and then was released. Doctors are hopeful that he will be OK, but fear he may be blind.
At the trial, the jury found her not guilty of intentionally inflicting injury but guilty of willfully causing a child to suffer physical pain under circumstances likely to produce great bodily injury. The judge said that while the defendant showed a lack or remorse, she had no criminal past.
She was sentenced to 4 years.
0328: The 8-month old baby and his 2-year-old brother were dropped at the sitter’s house about 8:30 a.m. on a Friday. He was very lethargic. She put him in a high chair and prepared to feed him baby food, but he slumped down. She put him in a playpen in the master bedroom, but when she went to the next room to attend to other children, he began crying. As she began making lunch for the other children, she got a “gut feeling something was wrong” with the baby. She found him lying on his back gasping for breath. When she picked him up his eyes began to roll back in his head. He had been in her care for three hours.
911 was called. When the baby arrived at the hospital, he was pronounced brain dead due to his injuries as a result of shaken baby syndrome. Doctors said there could be no suspects other than the sitter, as the injuries were so severe that the cause of death was immediate. He had subarachnoid and subdural hemorrhages and retinal hemorrhages.
That morning, the baby had been very lethargic. The day before, the sitter had told the mother he had been “fussy and crying a lot and was coughing and seemed congested.” The mother said the baby had suffered from an ear infection and had been taking antibiotics and was teething, but that he had played and slept normally at home.
The sitter, 42, was arrested and charged with felony first-degree murder. Members of her small (150 member) church dug into their savings to raise her $60,000 bail and donated another $15,000 toward her attorney fees. The outpouring of financial and emotional support was unprecedented in the area. Friends and neighbors described her as a kind, gentle woman who is always willing to help children and adults and who never raised her voice, let alone snapped. Her record and reputation in the field of child care was spotless. She had been operating a day care center for 11 years and had not lost her temper once. People said they trusted her absolutely.
The police said, “We’ve got our person 100%.” They say she snapped and shook the baby because he would not stop crying. “There is no other possibility. The evidence leaves no other possibility.” They said of her supporters, “I’m afraid those people don’t have any factual information. All they have is their opinions. It was a shaking, a violent shaking.”
The jury had been selected and was ready to be sworn in when an important medical report was found among the papers of a defense expert who had died suddenly. It conflicted directly with some of the findings of the medical examiner. The judge called off the trial, saying in the interests of truth time was needed to review the document and interview another doctor.
The final outcome of the case is not known.
0329: The year-old boy was left with the sitter, the 56-year-old wife of the town’s mayor, at around 7:00 a.m. Two hours later, she called 911 to report that the child had fallen off a chair and was unresponsive. The doctor said the baby “suffered abusive head trauma with a high impact to the back of his head.” She said “the injury occurred just prior to the onset of symptoms, so in the care of the babysitter.”
The sitter admitted to snatching the baby up and shaking him because he wasn’t breathing.
A 10-month-old girl had been removed from her care earlier that month because she had sustained facial injuries, including a bruised, swollen and bleeding nose, scratches on her face, swollen lips, bleeding gums and broken blood vessels in her left eye.
The baby recovered.
The sitter was convicted and sentence to 7 years in prison.
0330: The baby was a twin. Both 9-month-old boys were being watched by the mother’s boyfriend. When police arrived, they found the child motionless on the floor.
At voir dire, the defense attorney asked potential jurors their thoughts on shaken baby syndrome, their experience with pediatrics and child abuse, and whether they believe a baby could be accidentally dropped from about waist high. Another question asked if there was ever an excuse to be angry with a child.
The prosecutor asked if they knew anyone related to the defendant, if they were willing to challenge an expert’s opinion and if they could find a verdict without being impaired by the possibility that a heavy sentence could be imposed on the defendant.
He was tried for murder but convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to 30-120 months in prison.
Subsequently, the parents attempted to get a law passed in their son’s name requiring that people convicted of violent crimes against children will have to register just as sex offenders do, for the rest of their lives.
0331: The father said his 5-month-old son was awake and alert when he took him to the sitter’s home. That afternoon, the sitter called the parents and said to come get the baby because he was ill. The mother found the baby unconscious and took him to the hospital.
Two days later, he died. The autopsy attributed his death to blunt-force trauma and shaken baby syndrome.
The sitter, 41, had cared for children in her home for 19 years with no complaints. She was licensed and registered to take up to 10 children at a time. She denied hurting the child and underwent a polygraph examination at the request of police which revealed her to be truthful.
She was asked to close her child care business but declined. Instead, she made sure another adult was always present. Her lawyer said, “Since she has not done anything wrong and she has not even been accused of doing anything wrong, we do not feel it is necessary or politically correct to close down voluntarily.” Threatened with a court injunction, she closed about a month after the incident.
Facing possible life in prison if convicted for murder and serious bodily injury to a child, the sitter accepted a plea bargain under which she pleaded guilty to the second charge and was sentenced to 10 years probation and deferred adjudication.
Although the parents approved of the plea deal, saying a trial would not bring the baby back, child advocates were outraged. “This case deserves to go to a jury trial in order to obtain justice for [the baby],” said one. “Probation is not justice.” Another said, “Ten years with deferred adjudication in a child’s death is criminal in itself.”
0332: The sitter, 14, watched the 23-month-old infant and her 3-year-old brother regularly at the children’s home. “I love kids,” said the boy, an honor student. “I’ve always watched kids and loved being around kids.”
One day, the baby, who had been battling a stomach virus, threw up again. The sitter called the mother, but then said the baby had fallen asleep. When she woke, he tried to give her a cracker. “She started acting very tired like,” he says. “That’s when I heard the kind of weird, coughing, gurgling noise. She wasn’t breathing.”
He called 911. The dispatcher instructed him in CPR, which he administered until rescue workers arrived. When the baby’s mother arrived, a paramedic told her, “Your sitter did everything he’s supposed to do.”
The 14-year-old said, “I’m sorry.” She said, “For what? You saved my little girl’s life.” He said, “I’m just sorry.” Subsequently, they came to believe he meant he was sorry for hurting her. He denies that. “Honestly, I couldn’t think of anything else to say. I didn’t know what to say to her.”
The doctors discovered possible evidence of sexual assault. Then they discovered she had a brain injury. The police were told the little girl had been sexually assaulted and then shaken to death.
On the evening news, the sitter’s parents saw a report that police were looking for their son, that he was suspected of murder and child molestation. After that, they absolutely refused to allow him to speak to police.
He was arrested and charged as an adult. He spent the next 361 days in jail and was considered a danger to the community. Finally he was allowed to go home, wearing an ankle monitor.
The sitter told his story for the very first time on the witness stand at the trial. He said the little girl had been scratching herself “really hard” between her legs. In fact, she had eczema. The defense claimed that accounted for what appeared to doctors to be sexual abuse.
As for her death, the defense claimed a rare brain virus killed her. Their expert was the state’s chief medical examiner. He attributed the death to a natural disease process. He said there was no evidence of bruising on the chest wall or broken ribs.
The jury deliberated for eight hours and acquitted on all counts.
The family had spent $400,000 on their son’s defense. The mother, who had only reluctantly come to believe in the boy’s guilt, was now unconvinced of his innocence. “I believe what I believe about what happened,” she said.
This case was detailed in a 48 Hours Mystery program.
0333: The mother’s boyfriend, 17, was accused of shaking her 7-week-old baby boy. The baby had been fine at two examinations the prior month, but this time had severe injuries. Eleven days later, he died of meningitis.
During an interrogation the day after the baby was taken to the doctors with her fatal injuries, he admitted shaking the boy until he stopped breathing, according to the prosecutor. It was alleged that the boyfriend subjected the child to abuse more than once during his short life.
The defense attorney urged jurors to consider all the evidence investigators chose to ignore. An expert for the defense said there were some signs of rough handling, but they were unrelated to the meningitis and fever that took the baby’s life.
After less than a day of deliberating, jurors acquitted the defendant on all counts.
0334: The defendant, a 33-year-old father with no prior adult criminal record, was caring for his 10-day-old twin daughter when she stopped breathing. Doctors discovered she had a bulging soft spot on her head, indicating swelling of the brain. She also had rib fractures and hemorrhages in the brain and spine. She died the following day.
A pediatrician attributed her death to violent shaking or cranial impact. The defense said the rib fractures were sustained when the father attempted CPR.
He pleaded guilty to manslaughter as part of a plea bargain, and was sentenced to 10 years with all but 18 months suspended. A factor in the sentencing was the defendant’s “otherwise very good track record,” said the judge.
0335: Fifteen minutes after her good friend's 20-month-old daughter was dropped at her house, the 23-year-old babysitter called 911. The baby died the following day and the state medical examiner's office ruled the death a homicide. The sitter was charged with manslaughter. She insisted she didn't do anything to harm the baby and couldn't explain the injuries. That explanation, said the police, did not fit the medical evidence.
It was the first homicide case in a long time in the small town. Bond was set at $50,000.
Fifteen months later, a jury deliberated for two and a half hours before finding the sitter not guilty. Said the prosecutor, "We always said it was going to be extremely difficult to get a conviction because the case was based entirely upon circumstantial evidence. The verdict will likely leave the baby's death a mystery for all time."
"We have prosecuted the one person against whom we had any evidence," he said. "There is no evidence pointing to any other person."
0336: The babysitter, a 44-year-old native of Cambodia, had run a small in-home day care for three years.
She called 911 with a report that a 10-month-old girl in her care was choking. She later told investigators the baby seemed OK in the morning, although the child had a cold. The sitter had trouble waking the child after nap time, and then, in the middle of lunch, the baby coughed and keeled over, hitting her head on the carpeted floor.
Doctors found brain bleeding and retinal hemorrhages. They diagnosed shaken baby syndrome and the sitter was arrested and held on $240,000 bail. She was charged with child abuse with enhancements of causing great bodily injury and brain injury. At a hearing, a doctor said a CAT scan taken four hours after the fall revealed swelling too advanced to be caused at the time of the fall. He said that the injury could have occurred as early as the previous afternoon, but afterwards anyone would have been able to tell that the child was not normal.
Defense attorneys said that an injury up to two days prior to severe symptoms could have caused the subdural hematoma. “My client is absolutely innocent,” said one of her attorneys. A defense expert witness said that a CAT scan cannot determine when or how a brain hemorrhage occurred.
Two years and two months after the incident, a judge dismissed all charges after doctors offered conflicting opinions on the girl’s injury. The prosecutor said, “I felt we couldn’t prove beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury what had happened.
“She’s just exuberant. Literally her life has been on hold for two years,” said one of her attorneys. “The problem with the case was too many questions.”
0337: The mother, 30, initially told investigators her son had had a seizure and rolled off the couch. When confronted with the severity of the child’s injuries, she “changed her story” according to authorities, and said the baby had rolled off the couch and hit his head on the floor. Authorities said she was trying to cover up an incident of shaking. There were no external injuries or bruises, or evidence of blunt force trauma. There was an older injury, which the mother said occurred when the little boy fell from a swing onto the ground. The doctor claimed that also had been inflicted.
“There’s no way these injuries can be inflicted without violently shaking the child,” said the prosecutor. She said the child had no prior history of falling, and the carpeted floor would have precluded any injury from the 20” fall.
The defendant’s landlord was surprised. “I doubt very much that she did it,” he said. “I was up in their apartment many times and I did not see any abuse.” He said the defendant and her husband had tried for years to have a baby before their first son was conceived.
Both the baby and a sibling were removed from parental custody. The defendant was the first to be charged under “Cynthia’s Law” named for a baby that was allegedly shaken to death by a sitter. The law allows stiffer sentences for anyone convicted in a shaken baby case. Prior to its passage, prosecutors were required to prove intent.
The case was brought to a Grand Jury approximately three months after the incident. They refused to indict her and charges were dropped.
The defendant’s two children, including the 7-month-old baby, had been taken away at the time of the allegation and were not returned when charges were dismissed. Seven months later, the parents began a legal battle to be reunited with their children.
In family court fourteen months after the incident, a pediatrics specialist testified that the child suffered from external hydrocephalus, which made him very susceptible to bleeding. The condition is genetic. “Not all things are slam dunks,” he said.
0338: The father, 25, was not married to the baby’s mother. When the child was born, he moved in with the mother and baby because “he didn’t want to be a part time father.” The mother said he had always been a dedicated and loving father.
The baby was with her father while the mother went to take a college exam. During that time, according to the father, he tripped while carrying the baby in a pumpkin seat, a type of baby carrier. The baby rolled down an asphalt driveway. The police said his initial story to them was that he shook the baby when she wouldn’t stop crying. The defendant later said that was a fake story he had made up. There was no recording of that statement. On the written statement, the words “by shaking her” were inserted by several handwritten marks.
The baby had massive bleeding in the brain and eyes, bruises, multiple fractures of the ribs and a hairline fracture at the front of her skull.
At the trial, a prosecution medical expert gave a demonstration during which he violently shook a doll and banged its head on the witness stand again and again, then turned the baby around and repeated the bashing. He said it was to show the jury how much force was necessary. Other doctors called by the prosecution said even a mild shaking could lead to the injuries.
The defense lawyer urged the jury not to take the easy option and convict on the lesser charge of manslaughter. “The last chapter needs to be written in this tragedy–do not let it be the conviction of an innocent man.” The jury convicted him of murder and he was sentenced to life in prison. The mother said, “In front of me he was a good person, but then I began to understand after this happened that it was just a facade.” She now has trouble trusting people and doubts she will ever be able to have an intimate relationship with another man.
“He lied right up to the time of sentencing,” she said. “He lied. If he had just spoken honestly and shown some remorse it would have helped me to know he really did love [our daughter].” Later, she told a reporter, “I lost some of myself, too. I am no longer sure who I am.”
A year later, on appeal, “startling new evidence” cast doubt on the verdict. The evidence, reports from a forensic pathologist and a biomechanical engineering expert, had been in the hands of the prosecution but had not been disclosed in a timely manner. The appeal also argued that the prosecution expert bashing the doll on furniture was inappropriate because shaking without impact was the prosecution theory of what had happened. A doctor had testified that there were multiple fractures when there was only one.
The Court of Appeals reduced the murder conviction to manslaughter and sentenced the defendant to 10 years. His request for a retrial was denied. The court heavily criticized the prosecution expert who shook the doll, saying he behaved in a “unduly theatrical and undisciplined” manner.
0339: Fourteen minutes after the mother had gone to the bank, she received a call that something was wrong with the baby. She returned home to find her 15-month-old daughter unresponsive and paramedics in attendance. The baby was rushed to the hospital and died two days later. The parents said there had never been any warning signs of problems with the nanny, 36, who had watched the children in the family home for just under a year. They had searched high and low for a sitter. They loved the nanny and considered her part of the family.
The father, who insisted he wanted to forgive the sitter but first she had to admit guilt, immediately started a foundation named after his daughter to educate people about the dangers of shaking children. He sought to turn his daughter’s name into a rallying cry against baby shaking and lobbied legislators for a law named after their daughter. He said he planned to get a tattoo of the baby’s face on his arm and posted billboards and bus station ads with her face and the message, “Don’t shake your baby.”
“She didn’t do it,” said the defendant’s brother. “I am 100 percent certain. A thousand percent certain.” Another relative said, “She was very happy in that job. She said she would like to stay there forever.” Most family members refused to talk to the press. A priest said she told him the little girl had fallen and the sitter had shaken her in an attempt to awaken her.
In addition to charges of second degree murder and assault on a child causing death, she was charged with being in the United States illegally. Her visa had expired. Even if she could raise the $500,000 bail, she would not be allowed to leave jail. The father was pleased, saying he had been devastated when the judge granted bail.
The nanny rejected a plea deal that would have resulted in an 11 year sentence, saying she was innocent. The grand jury indicted her on the assault charge but not the second degree murder count.
The state will pay the cost of defense experts. The state appointed a public defender. Following a contract change, another public defender was appointed. Then a third attorney took the case but asked to be removed from the case because she was not being paid, delaying the trial.
Eventually, a private attorney who had formerly worked for the public defender’s office took the case. The first trial ended with a hung jury, 10-2 in favor of conviction. The judge sent the jury back several times to deliberate, even after one juror broke down in tears. The second trial ended with a hung jury 9-3 in favor of acquittal. The prosecutor declined to try the case a third time.
Said one juror who held out for innocence, “I think it would be a waste of taxpayer money (to retry the case) and I don’t think they would have a better outcome.”
The woman was deported to Mexico.
0340: The mother told doctors her 13-month-old son had been sick since he’d received his immunizations five days earlier. She stayed home with the boy the four days after the shots because he was so sick. On the fifth day, the day care told her he had been running a fever. She received a call that evening that her grandmother was very sick and left her son with her boyfriend, 31, for a few hours. When she came home, the baby seemed OK. A half hour after midnight, she received a call that her grandmother had died. She left again. The baby was sleeping.
During the time she was gone, the boyfriend told investigators, the baby threw up more than once but later seemed fine. He told police the baby “would fall asleep while he was sitting up.” After the mother returned, the baby started crying. When they checked on him, his eyes were glazed and they thought he was sick again.
The following day, the baby was taken to the hospital. Doctors discovered a blood clot and bruising on his brain as well as several small bruises on his body. He had a seizure and some paralysis. Doctors diagnosed shaken baby syndrome and said the injuries would have most likely occurred between six and twelve hours before he was seen at the hospital and at most 24 hours before.
The boyfriend was arrested and charged with abuse. He was held on a $20,000 cash only bond.
The outcome of this case is not known.
0341: The baby, a 2-month-old boy, was hospitalized when his father noticed he was unconscious and not breathing. He died three weeks later. Doctors said the injuries had been inflicted and child protection took away her other children.
When questioned by police, the mother, 16 and not an American citizen, said she had picked him up by the hips a few times that day, causing his head to tilt back and forth. She was arrested and charged as an adult with first degree murder. Authorities said she both inflicted the injuries and neglected to seek medical help. Bond was set at $25,000, cash only. In a complicated arrangement, she was allowed to stay with her mother and a cousin under electronic monitoring utilizing GPS and an ankle bracelet.
The judge allowed prosecutors to use computer generated graphics used to teach medical students about shaken baby syndrome.
The jury convicted her of a lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter. She was sentenced to 3.5 years. She will be deported at the end of her term.
0342: The mother was paying her boyfriend, 27, to watch her three children, including a 23-month-old girl, while she worked. He said he left her in an upstairs bedroom watching TV. He yelled for her to come downstairs to eat her cereal. She fell down the stairs and hit her head.
Doctors tried for about an hour to revive her. At the trial, they said that the injuries were very specific for shaken baby syndrome, that they could only be caused by severe shaking and could not possibly have been caused by falling down stairs or even being struck by a car. The defendant was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to 75 years.
An appellate court overturned the conviction, saying grisly autopsy photos were improperly used at the trial and were “highly prejudicial” against the defendant.
At a second trial, the jury again convicted and sentenced to 75 years. A juror said the panel didn’t believe the defendant’s story about the stairwell fall. Rather, they focused on whether he knew his injuries would harm the girl. They asked the judge if intent was a factor in determining guilt. When he said no, the verdict of guilty came back quickly.
The defendant’s family members were shocked. One softly asked “Why?” over and over again.
An appeal of the second verdict failed.
0343: The mother had laid her baby, a 14-month-old boy, down for an afternoon nap and returned to preparing his older brothers’ birthday party. When she tried to awaken the baby, he was unresponsive. She called for help and the baby was taken to the hospital. Doctors found a very large subdural hematoma and believed the child had been shaken. The baby was rushed to another hospital where he went into emergency surgery to relieve the pressure on his brain. Surgery saved his life.
The parents were both interrogated and police insisted on going to their home and photographing it. The two older children were removed from the home. Several days later, the parents were able to regain custody of the older children.
Eventually, a doctor discovered that the baby had a rare metabolic disorder called glutaric aciduria type 1. Symptoms mimic those of shaken baby syndrome: retinal hemorrhage, subdural bleeding and cerebral edema (brain swelling). It is caused by the lack of a necessary enzyme that helps break down two proteins: lysine and tryptophan. Screening for the disorder is available and if treated properly before serious symptoms develop, those with it can live a normal life.
In this case, the baby suffered a stroke, cerebral palsy, mild epileptic seizures, loss of motor skills and speech. Had his condition been discovered before the incident, all this could have been avoided.
It took four days for doctors to find the correct diagnosis. Had the child died within those first days, the diagnosis of shaken baby would have stood and one of the parents would likely have been charged with causing the death.
0344: The father, 28, took his 3 1/2 week old son to the emergency room after he turned bluish purple and seemed to be having trouble breathing. When questioned by police, he originally said he thought the baby bumped his head as his diaper was being changed the day before but didn’t believe that was the cause. He said he had been drinking a few days before and that he is a violent sleeper after he drinks but he didn’t recall any incident then that could explain the injuries either.
The mother said there were times when the father, 6’6” and 210 pounds, could have been more delicate with the baby but she didn’t recall anything that could have caused the injuries.
The doctors said the baby had bleeding in the brain and fractures in his skull, left arm and collar bone, injuries consistent with shaken baby syndrome.
The father said he had repeatedly tossed the baby in the air and caught him while playing with him. He accepted a plea bargain to neglect of a dependent and agreed that he caused the injuries and should have known that tossing the baby and catching him would cause him harm because of his young age. His sentence was capped at 15 years.
The baby lived but doctors said it was unlikely he would be able to live an independent life as a result of his injuries.
0345: The baby died at the hospital at 3 1/2 months of age. The medical examiner made a preliminary determination of the cause of death as SIDS. A state coroner ruled the cause of the death as undetermined. A few days later, the state medical examiner was called. He found that while there were no external signs of injury, the child had healing rib fractures, a hemorrhage to the left eye, and evidence of brain edema. He said the cause of death was shaken baby syndrome. He said while he had not examined the results of microscopic evidence yet, this was similar to other cases of dead babies he had investigated that were shaken baby syndrome. After examining the microscopic evidence, he said the baby had died of abuse.
The mother, an 21-year-old former honor student, was arrested and charged with first-degree murder, with a mandatory penalty of life in prison. Later, the medical examiner, who had diagnosed abuse on the basis of as little as four specks of blood in other cases, was challenged about many of his findings and charges were dismissed against many people, including this defendant. He had stated confidently that the baby died 1.5 hours after the fatal injury.
The trial was called off on the third day of jury selection because prosecutors weren’t able to find any doctors to support the medical examiner’s diagnosis. The mother said she had come really close to accepting a guilty plea of probation.
The mother brought a civil suit against the medical examiner, alleging she was deprived of her constitutional right of life, liberty or property without due process of law when the doctors reached an erroneous conclusion about the cause of her son’s death. The state claimed sovereign immunity and the immunity of state employees acting within the scope of their employment, so this suit was filed in federal court.
Separately, she sought to add tort claims alleging medical malpractice against the state and two medical examiners. She alleged intentional infliction of emotional distress. She later withdrew those claims from consideration.
The civil case was dismissed. The court said, “The Eleventh Amendment grants a state immunity from suits brought in federal court by its own citizens as well as citizens of another state. ... Unless the state has waived its sovereign immunity, neither the State nor its employee acting in an official capacity can be sued on state law claims in federal court.”
0346: The baby was born three months premature. Paramedics were called one day and found the child in a coma. The mother had seen the father throw the child up in the air on previous occasions and had told him not to do it. On the day in question, she heard a thump and saw the 4-month-old infant crying, but concluded he had not been injured in the fall and left the apartment. She was not present when the baby lost consciousness.
A pediatrician who specialized in child-abuse diagnosed shaken baby syndrome.
When interviewed by the police, the father said he had thrown the infant into the air and then fumbled in catching him. The baby fell and struck the floor with his head. The police told him the treating physicians said the baby had been shaken. The father then admitted he had shaken the infant twice while he was sitting in the car. At the trial, he said he told the police that because that’s what the officer wanted to hear and he was told he would “get in trouble” if he didn’t cooperate and his family would be “kept together” if he cooperated.
The defendant said he had not intended to shake the child and had no idea that shaking a baby could cause such injuries. He was convicted of felony child abuse with an enhancement for great bodily injury and sentenced to 11 years.
The Court of Appeals overturned the verdict, saying that without evidence that the man knew shaking could cause injury or death, the conviction had to be reduced to a misdemeanor. The state Supreme Court agreed to review the case. The prosecutor said “Knowledge is irrelevant.” In a case where physical pain is directly inflicted, all that needs to be proved is a general intent to inflict “unjustifiable” pain or suffering, not knowledge that the action is capable of causing injury or death.
A Supreme Court justice questioned that. “What if a child’s injury is completely unforeseeable, some peculiar vulnerability?” The prosecutor said that it was left to the jury to decide if the crime was a felony or a misdemeanor.
“What if a parent shook a baby who was choking on food,” one justice asked, “and that shaking caused brain damage to the child?” The prosecutor said that would be accidental and not a crime. “You seem to be mingling consequences with the act itself,” the Chief Justice said.
The state Supreme Court ruled unanimously that someone who violently shakes a child can be punished for felony child abuse even if he or she is unaware that shaking can harm the child. Ignorance of the danger is irrelevant. The verdict was reinstated.
0347: The father, 39, took his 6-month-old son to the hospital after he vomited and became limp. Doctors diagnosed child abuse and said the infant’s injuries could not be accidental, they could only be inflicted by abuse. Police said the father had demonstrated shaking the child “after losing control after a rough day at work.”
The prosecution alleged that he had shaken the child four times over a period of three months. “We will present medical evidence that such skull injuries can’t be accidental,” they said.
The defense said the child had possibly been born with physical defects and that the injuries could have come from an accident or from a seizure.
In a bench trial, the judge found the defendant guilty of aggravated battery and sentenced him to 9 years. He was not swayed by testimony that the man was otherwise a good father.
The baby required brain surgery.
0348: An emergency room doctor thought the 18-month-old baby girl’s injuries looked suspicious. He called police saying she appeared to be a victim of shaken baby syndrome. The mother’s boyfriend, 21, was charged with attempted murder and held on $100,000 bond. A public defender was assigned to the case.
Doctors told police the girl suffered a skull fracture caused by either force or a substantial fall. They also said they found other brain injuries, including some that were not recent. They thought there might possibly be permanent injuries.
Police interviewed the man, who said he drove his girlfriend to work that morning and was going to watch her two children for the day, the baby and a 2-year-old boy. The children were alone playing in a room. The little girl came out crying. He gave her some milk and rocked her to sleep before putting her to bed. He said he checked on her about 15 minutes later and found she had vomited. He took her to the bathroom and washed her off but she was not doing well.
He took her to a relative’s house and the relative called an ambulance. The baby was taken to the hospital and the doctor called police.
Police searched the house and found blood on the girl’s blanket and a bloody cotton swab in the toilet, prosecutors said.
The mother was not considered a suspect.
In a plea deal, he changed his plea from not guilty to no contest, agreeing that prosecutors had enough evidence to convict him at trial. The charge was reduced to felony assault on a minor. He said he did not agree with prosecutors’ version of the incident but would not contest the allegation. He was sentenced to three years in state custody. At the sentencing hearing, he tearfully told the girl’s mother, “I loved her like my own. I’m very happy to hear that she’s doing good and I wish you and her the best.”
0349: The baby, 7 weeks old, was a twin. When he was taken to Children’s Hospital, doctors quickly concluded he had been abused. One doctor testified that the lack of what she considered to be an adequate explanation from the parents led her to believe that the baby had been violently shaken. He had a skull fracture and other injuries.
The father said the baby had fallen out of a baby carrier three days earlier. He also said he’d accidentally dropped the child several weeks earlier.
Police said the father admitted that he had shaken the child on two or three occasions.
The father, 33, was charged with two counts of felony child abuse and was suspected of also abusing the twin sister. Both children, said the doctor, had been violently shaken.
The defense attorney raised questions about the interpretation of X-rays and about the apparent lack of injuries to the child’s neck. He said he would put the phenomenon of “shaken baby syndrome” on trial.
The outcome of this case is not known.
0350: The father, 25, said his 29-day-old son had three episodes of “stiffening and grimacing” while in his swing. He was able to comfort him the first two times, but the baby wouldn’t stop crying after the third episode. He walked with him and “jiggled” him, holding him out in front and saying, “What’s wrong with you, buddy?”
He gave the baby Tylenol and put him down on the sofa next to him. About an hour later, he noticed the baby was cold and took his temperature, which was 95 degrees. He called his wife, who suggested warmer clothes and a cap. He tried to feed the baby but he wouldn’t eat. While his diaper was being changed, the baby became limp. The father called the mother and then 911. The fact that he called the mother before 911 was used by the prosecution to argue that he delayed seeking medical help.
At the hospital, the father was told the baby had several broken ribs, retinal bleeding and older injuries. It was later determined the child had no broken ribs.
Prosecutors said the father admitted to police that he became “frustrated and snapped,” shaking the baby because he would not stop crying. Police said he also told them, “I didn’t mean to hurt him.” During trial, the father denied making those statements and said the detective manipulated him into saying things that made him appear guilty at a time when he was distraught over his son’s condition.
“It crushed me,” said the father. “I know I never harmed my son. I never would do anything to harm him. But [the detective] wasn’t believing a word I was saying. I was guilty in her mind.”
The coroner ruled that the baby died from a brain hemorrhage caused by blunt-force trauma and shaken baby syndrome.
The defense contended the child died from undiagnosed medical problems including a seizure disorder. There was expert testimony that the baby may have had a neurological problem or blood clotting disorder. The case, said the defense attorney, was full of reasonable doubt.
The trial took 17 days and resulted in a conviction for reckless child abuse resulting in death. Supporters gasped and cried. One ran out of the courtroom and collapsed. The defendant, his wife, and numerous relatives, who believed he was innocent, wept. He told his wife, “I love you” and they embraced until he was led away in handcuffs.
The prosecutor said cases in which victims are unable to testify can be difficult but “this verdict speaks very loudly on behalf of victims.”
The sentence was 16 years, the mandatory minimum. The judge said, “We have one huge lapse of judgment with tragic consequences.” He said the defendant did not set out to kill his son. At the sentencing hearing, the father spoke to the court. “I have loved him for every single day he was with me and my wife. I would give my life to bring him back.” His mother said, “My son is innocent, your honor.” The prosecutor said the man had violated the sacred covenant of a parent to care for and nurture a child. He said of the family, “They do not now, and by all appearances, never will accept the fact that the jury heard all the evidence and found him guilty. To believe the defendant, one has to believe in a grand, grand conspiracy that flies in the face of all common sense.”
0351: The father, a 40-year-old anesthesiologist, was accused of viciously shaking his 5-month-old baby girl in a moment of rage. He turned down all offers of plea bargains, maintaining his innocence throughout. The prosecutor said the father, “a doctor who knows better...shook the life right out of her.”
At the hospital, the father’s request that the baby be intubated was ignored. Several other treatment mistakes were made, including a 40-minute period of time when no one at the hospital paid any attention at all to the desperately ailing child.
The baby was pronounced brain dead three days after she arrived at the hospital but the parents refused to discontinue life support, citing their Christian beliefs. A court battle ensued. A Catholic cardinal intervened and had the baby transferred to a Catholic hospital, where she was kept on a ventilator until her heart stopped beating nearly a month after she entered the hospital. The father, known as a gentle man who never lost his temper, was charged with manslaughter and suspended without pay from his $146,000-a-year job. His wife, a lawyer and former child advocate and CPS worker, insisted he was innocent.
The defense attorney maintained that doctors were too quick to diagnose shaken baby syndrome, and could have missed evidence of possible meningitis or a blood clot on the baby’s brain. There was no evidence, other than medical opinion, to indicate the doctor (the baby’s father) had done such a terrible thing.
Testifying in his own defense, the doctor said he had shaken the baby, not forcefully, in an attempt to revive her when he discovered she was having trouble breathing. What he described as mild jostling designed to revive breathing, with the baby’s head held firmly in the palm of his hand, the prosecution portrayed as violent destructive shaking. There were no broken bones or bruises, but there was bleeding behind the eyes and in the brain.
Using CAT scans and numerous medical experts, prosecutors said the baby, who was born 11-weeks premature and weighed only 2 pounds 1 ounce at birth, had classic signs of shaken baby syndrome. The baby had been frail all her life. There were several indicators in her medical record mitigating against DTP vaccination, including meningitis. Nevertheless, the pediatrician put the baby on an accelerated vaccination schedule. The father had successfully revived her after an earlier collapse when he found her limp and without breath a week after her second DTP and HiB shots.
The jury convicted and the defendant was sentenced to 2-6 years. One doctor who testified for the defense was furious. “This was meningitis, and a blind man on a galloping horse could have seen it. The baby had all the symptoms of onset before the seizure. The vaccine could have contributed, but the baby had meningitis. [The father] is innocent, and the verdict is an unbelievable miscarriage of justice. That often happens, where a hospital accuses someone of child abuse. A lot of injustices are done.”
After conviction, an appeals judge granted him bail ($500,000) pending his appeal. Church members held car washes and passed the hat to raise part of the money. The doctor’s legal defense cost $400,000 and they relied on a court-appointed lawyer for the appeal.
He was denied parole more than once because he refused to participate in anger management classes. He filed suit against the members of the parole board but lost.
0352: The baby, 10 weeks old, was found not breathing by his mother in England. She rushed into the street, screaming for help. She said he had not been well for a couple of days after receiving his MMR immunization.
The 17-year-old mother was accused of manslaughter. Four years later, a trial resulted in a hung jury and mistrial. She sobbed as a justice said it was not in the public interest for her to face another trial.
“He would have been four last February,” she said. “I haven’t been able to grieve for him properly with all of this hanging over me. I haven’t even buried him yet. It is only now that I can start planning his funeral.”
When the baby was taken to visit his grandparents the Sunday before his collapse, they noticed a black eye and nosebleed. He vomited and appeared floppy when he returned home.
Her boyfriend stood by her throughout the ordeal. “I have had wonderful support from him, family and friends but this has destroyed everything else,” she said. “I have not had a life. I’ve gone from 17 to 21 without having anything at all. I used to be so funny. I always had so much energy but I’m so tired now and feel so poorly.”
Speaking of a gynecological condition which had left her unable to have more children, she said. “I have been told for medical reasons I can’t have kids any more. We wanted children and I am devastated that even that has been taken from me.”
0353: The baby sitter, 57, had provided child care for 28 years. She had one violation on her record, for not having a stairway gated. Otherwise, she had a clean record in every way. She had raised eight children and had grandchildren.
After a 9-month-old baby boy, one of twins, stopped breathing about an hour after coming to day care the sitter called 911. There was bleeding in his brain and eyes, and brain swelling. Doctors testified that the baby’s injuries were so severe that he would have almost immediately lost consciousness. The parents were never considered possible suspects.
After doctors diagnosed shaken baby syndrome, police interviewed parents and children (now grown up) who had used her child care services over the past 28 years. They found a few cases where children had been injured while in her care, some 25 years previous. The defense attorney said, “They are making references to these old, unsubstantiated allegations to try and tarnish her character and bolster their case.” The judge ruled that that information was “remote in time and vague”, and therefore inadmissible.
The intensive care physician said he suspected shaken baby syndrome “from the minute I examined him.” He testified, “I could not think of another clinical situation that would explain that trauma.”
“The constellation of injuries means it was inflicted,” said another expert. An eye surgeon testified, “This particular pattern of hemorrhaging can only be caused by shaken baby syndrome—I would add to a degree of medical certainty.”
The defense attorney asked why, if the injuries were caused by such a violent shaking, there were no neck injuries, bruising, or other signs of external injury. One doctor said the lack of those injuries made him more confident in his diagnosis.
A defense expert said there was a weeks-old injury to the boy’s brain that had been ignored. She told the jury there was controversy surrounding the shaken baby diagnosis. The baby had an enlarged head at a doctor’s visit three months before his death. The baby had a history of illnesses, including breathing problems. She said she would have ruled the death as “undetermined.”
In closing arguments, the defense attorney said, “Every time a child dies it is not a crime, and there’s no crime here. There is nothing to support the theory that she lost it.” He said doctors made up their minds instantly and never considered possible alternatives. “When you’re the last one holding the baby, you get prosecuted.”
The jury took about five hours to reach a verdict, “not guilty.” One of the defendant’s daughters gasped, “Thank God, thank God.” Dozens of supporters who had attended the trial hugged and sobbed before forming a circle to pray in the courtroom.
Said a juror, “You had to throw all the medical testimony out. None of the jurors understood the medical testimony. None of the jurors was a doctor, and you have conflicting testimony.” Another said, “There was so much of it. We were all laypeople. In my heart, I couldn’t imagine this woman doing that. I think a lot of us felt that way.”
“It was almost like a witch hunt right from the beginning. There were no marks, just the medical testimony,” said one juror who had lost a baby to SIDS. The testimony of the accused was key. “She was very convincing. She appears to be a very honest and kind individual. My thought was this was an act of God.”
“How would anyone feel, knowing you are innocent?” said the sitter after the trial. “I wanted to stand up and say, ‘I did not harm that child’ and no one cared except my defense. No one cares to hear that,” she said, her voice cracking. “I’m emotionally destroyed.”
The defense cost more than $100,000, wiping out the couple’s retirement savings. She lost her day-care earnings, which had provided most of their income. “If it wasn’t for my faith, I would never have gotten through this,” she said. “My church has been fantastic. ... There have been prayer groups for us and for the attorneys. A few members called [my attorney] to set up a defense fund. There have been constant cards, calls and small money gifts, hugs; everything a true friend and fellow Christian shows another.”
Asked what happened to the baby, she said she didn’t know. She said, “I just know it didn’t have anything to do with me.”
0354: The mother was mystified at her 2-month-old son’s sudden death as she cradled his tiny body at the hospital. Hospital staff approached her. “They told us it was shaken baby syndrome,” she said later. “They pried my son out of my arms and told me I was under investigation.”
Six weeks later, the autopsy report showed the baby had died from meningitis, which had been diagnosed by neither the baby’s doctors nor Children’s Hospital. An unknown organism caused the blood clots and swelling in the brain. Meningitis shares symptoms with shaken baby syndrome, including vomiting, lethargy and seizures. The case was said to illustrate doctors’ difficult task of determining whether a child’s injuries are accidental or intentional. Some medical conditions mimic the symptoms of violent shaking.
The police investigation was then closed and no charges were filed.
The baby had been to see the doctor 10 times in the his 9 weeks of life for illnesses that included respiratory infections, vomiting and a rash. No one looked for, or found, meningitis, a treatable bacterial or viral infection that causes swelling of the brain and spinal cord. It didn’t even show up in a spinal tap.
The mother said if someone had caught the proper diagnosis earlier, the baby would still be alive. “If it weren’t for the coroner’s office,” she said, “my husband would probably be sitting in jail, and so would I.”
Doctors said they couldn’t discuss the case because of privacy laws. The medical director for child advocacy said doctors typically rule out a variety of confounding diagnoses, including blood, metabolic and genetic disorders, before approaching a family about the possibility of shaken baby syndrome.
The hospital staff was distressed over the case, said the vice president for medical affairs. He promised to review the case, as it does with all deaths, looking for what staff might have missed and ways to improve their practices.
0355: When the parents took their 11-month-old son to the hospital after his second fall in eight days, doctors found retinal hemorrhages and subdural hematoma, classic signs of shaken baby syndrome. They were immediately under suspicion.
Doctors ignored the fact that the baby had been born with macrocephaly, an unusually large head that left him top heavy and unbalanced. Finally, one doctor took the side of the parents, saying the pronounced macrocephaly put him “at increased risk for incurring subdural hematomas with minimal trauma.”
The parents were under suspicion for eight months until a juvenile court magistrate found child protection officials had failed to prove abuse. “We were guilty until proven innocent,” said the father. Legal fees cost the family $10,000.
Ten years later, the father still seethed, wishing someone would be held accountable. “I’ve still got a big chip on my shoulder about this,” he said.
0356: The mother’s boyfriend, 27, was alone with the 16-month-old toddler and a 7-year-old sister when the baby started vomiting and stopped breathing. Doctors said the injuries were consistent with shaken baby syndrome.
The older sister said she saw the defendant abuse the baby. He admitted to police that he shook the baby 10 times and let him bump his head in the bathtub and on the bathroom faucet. He said he was attempting to revive her. He was charged with first degree murder. Bond was $20,000.
The prosecutor said, “He’s a liar, he knows he’s a liar. He’s lied to police many times.” The defense said the shaking had been in an effort to revive the child. A forensic pathologist testifying for the defense said it was likely the injuries had occurred earlier.
The jury acquitted the defendant of murder but convicted him of child abuse, a lesser charge. He was sentenced to the maximum 48 years in prison. Defense lawyers were stunned, and reminded the judge that the jury acquitted him of causing the fatal injuries.
“You owned an obligation to that child and you failed him,” said the judge. “It’s a clear signal that the court takes child abuse cases, where the child suffers death, very seriously, and we support that sentence and that view that child abuse should be severely punished,” said the district attorney.
On appeal, the judgment was affirmed, the sentence was vacated and the case was remanded with directions. The appeal decision was not published.
0357: The 6-week-old child quit breathing and needed emergency surgery. The father, 27, was charged with felony child abuse. Doctors said the symptoms included bleeding between his brain and skull, seizures, and two broken bones.
The father said the baby had fallen twice from a “bouncy chair“. Doctors said the injuries could not have occurred accidentally. “This child was shaken,” said the hospital’s medical director.
Defense attorney contended that the mother should have at least been investigated. She was often alone with the child and had not shown as much affection for him as his father had. “I think [the prosecutors] basically got tunnel vision on this,” he said.
The baby had mild to moderate symptoms of shaken baby syndrome but appeared to be recovering without long-term problems. He might need special education.
The baby’s maternal grandmother, who is seeking full custody, said she doubted anyone had shaken the boy, including her son-in-law. “I don’t feel he needs to go to prison,” she said. “I don’t think he did anything malicious toward that baby.” She said her daughter had a difficult pregnancy. After the birth, she was so weak and ill with an infection that she could barely hold him.
A trial resulted in a hung jury and mistrial. A date for a new trial was set but the defendant, who had since moved to another state, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of contributing to or encouraging the deprivation or delinquency of a minor and sentenced to one year of unsupervised probation.
0358: The baby sitter, 31, was charged with reckless child abuse resulting in death after a 20-month-old baby girl was allegedly injured under her care.
Prior to the trial, a TV news reporter was found in contempt of court for refusing to testify about his conversations with the baby’s family. He was required to spend a day in jail and pay $100 fine. The defense attorney had asked the reporter to disclose what he had been told. He steadfastly refused, citing a shield law that says reporters cannot be ordered to divulge information available from other sources. He was cited for contempt of court, a ruling he appealed.
In an unusual move late in the trial, the judge reduced the charges from reckless child abuse resulting in death to criminal negligence resulting in death. The jury found the sitter guilty of the misdemeanor, which had a maximum sentence of a year and $1,000 fine.
0359: After a day with the sitter, 43, the 6-week-old baby’s mother noticed the baby was feverish, acted lethargic, slept an inordinate amount of time and vomited repeatedly. She took the child to a pediatrician two days later. He diagnosed head trauma and retinal hemorrhages were found.
Police interviewed the sitter, who initially denied knowing of any injuries to the child. She later admitted to tripping and falling down a staircase while holding the child. She was charged with felony child abuse and malicious wounding.
In a plea bargain, she pleaded no contest to not properly caring for a child in her care. She was sentenced to five years with all but 3 months suspended. She will have an additional five years of probation and may no longer provide child care.
At the sentencing, she apologized to the parents. “I really didn’t know [the baby] had something wrong inside her head ... I’m not a neurologist, I don’t have medical training. I know the parents have been through a lot. They probably won’t accept my apology, but I’d like to offer it.”
Two doctors testified for the prosecution. A doctor who testified for the defense said the injuries may have been present since birth. The judge said he didn’t find the experts’ testimony proved either shaken baby syndrome or a pre-existing injury. The sitter’s inconsistent statements, he said, constituted the most damaging evidence against her.
The prosecutor said he was pleased with the judge’s decision. “Only she knows exactly what happened to this child and, unfortunately, she chose to lie,” he said.
0360: Twin girls had been born a month premature. Doctors noticed signs of abuse, including broken ribs and old bruises. The 19-year-old father was charged with first degree murder in the death of one of the girls, then 3 months old. He was known to have a temper.
Two days before his trial was to begin, he accepted a plea bargain for 12 years imprisonment rather than gamble on a jury and a possible life or death sentence. He wrote a letter to his father, maintaining his innocence but saying he had to accept the consequences of being “in the wrong place at the wrong time.” He said he felt it was the best decision. “How would we feel if I lost and I caught 30-40 years and couldn’t come back. I would rather die than do that.” He concluded, “I guess what I’m trying to say is we have to try and accept what’s going on and work with it the best we can. God makes things happen for a reason.”
Nearly a year after the murder charges were filed, he was also charged with lewd and lascivious battery on a child between the ages of 12 and 16 because the babies’ mother had been younger than 16 when the children were conceived.
The defendant’s father, a long-time member of a service organization, said his son was mixed up and “scared to death” when he agreed to the plea agreement. He believes completely in his son’s innocence, but understands why he made the deal. “What if something had gone wrong? He never would have forgiven me. I never would have forgiven myself,” he said. “This is the thanks our community gives us,” he said, fuming. “You always think somebody’s talking about you. You feel like people are looking at you wrong. As far as I’m concerned, injustice is what we got.”
The baby’s mother said she doesn’t think anybody hurt the baby. She hopes to win back custody of the other twin. Her mother wants her to sever all ties to the father, saying it’s her best chance of getting her other daughter back.
On appeal, the defendant argued that his plea should be set aside because no one informed him that as a result of the plea, his parental rights would be terminated. The appeals court ruled that a trial judge’s obligation to ensure that the defendant understands the direct consequences of his plea has been consistently interpreted to encompass only those consequences of the sentence that the trial court can impose. Termination of parental rights is not automatic and is not punishment. It involves CPS rather than the Court.
0361: The baby from early on cried and spit up a great deal. The sitter, 30, who cared for him from time to time thought the “spitting up” was more like projectile vomiting and did not understand why the parents did not take their son to the doctor. The baby, she said, had a cry of discomfort. The parents complained that the baby would hit himself.
One day within minutes after the father dropped off his son, the child began to vomit out of his nose. The sitter called the mother, who was irritated and said she couldn’t leave work. She called the mother three other times during the day, saying the baby was sick, but the mother said, “He was fine this morning.” The sitter called her own pediatrician who said it was probably a stomach bug. She was extremely concerned because he had cried for hours and seemed very worn out, like he had had a seizure although she hadn’t seen one. He had refused to eat.
When the parents picked up the boy, the sitter urged them to take him to the doctor immediately. They waited 16 hours before seeking medical help. The baby’s head injuries were consistent with shaken baby syndrome.
The mother was a social worker and was questioned by a co-worker. The police investigator was a friend of the father’s family. Despite the fact that the child hadn’t been in the sitter’s care for 16 hours, suspicion focused on her. After 6 hours of interrogation in the middle of the night, she finally admitted she must have blacked out and done something she didn’t remember. When she returned home, her husband had her go through the day minute by minute and she had to acknowledge she remembered everything. There was no blackout period.
Previous injuries were found. Prosecutors created a timeline to “fit” those injuries to match the few times the baby had been in her care.
He had had immunizations the week before and had not been the same since. Medical records revealed he had been diagnosed with a seizure disorder. The parents had witnessed a seizure one night before the sitter watched him.
The sitter was charged with child endangerment. She spent a night in jail until bond could be posted. Her own children were taken away by CPS. Friends and family, confident of her innocence, were certain it would all work out OK, that the truth would come out.
The jury acquitted her after 8 hours of deliberation. Her testimony in her own defense and police behavior at the interrogation were factors.
The baby recovered completely, as far as is known.
0362: Emergency workers were called to the family’s home when a 2-year-old girl was not responsive. The stepfather, 36, was charged with second degree murder. He was known to have a temper, and he had a criminal history including domestic and child abuse.
On Monday, the little girl was ill and the defendant watched her while the mother worked. On Tuesday, she threw up. The mother noticed a bruise and asked the stepfather how it came to be. He said she had fallen off a toilet in the bathroom. On Wednesday, she was still ill. The mother cared for her during the day and left her in the stepfather’s care that evening. When she came home after midnight, she did not check on the girl. The next morning, the baby was dead.
The mother testified that she had seen bruises on the girl before, and once a black eye. She said she had never inflicted any injuries. Friends said they were surprised at the mother’s lack of emotion or grief after the baby’s death. She would get upset only when a police officer came by. She told her friends she expected the police to come and take her to jail. At one point, she dressed up and told friends she was celebrating. She had signed over custody of her other daughter so she could be adopted out and she could get on with her life.
The father was convicted. On appeal, he argued that there was insufficient evidence to prove (1) he was the perpetrator, (2) he had the required malice for second degree murder, and (3) he intentionally inflicted a fatal injury. Witnesses had testified that the girl’s mother had hit and struck the child often and did not seem troubled by her death. The appeal went all the way to the state Supreme Court. The court held that “a defendant’s shaking a baby and the baby’s death by shaken baby syndrome are not the sole determinants of whether the State has produced sufficient evidence of malice to convict the defendant of murder in a shaken baby syndrome case.” The charge was reduced to involuntary manslaughter.
After his conviction, the defendant earned a doctorate in Educational Administration and Supervision from a state university.
0363: The baby and her twin sister were born almost three months premature when their mother was just 16 years old. She weighed only two pounds at birth and had many medical problems related to her underdeveloped lungs. One day when the father was alone with the child, a nurse noticed the baby wheezing and having a slight seizure. She died the next day.
Doctors said the baby died of a massive brain hemorrhage caused by trauma. Seven doctors testified for the prosecution. One of the defense witnesses was not able to fly in from another country because of an insurance issue. The trial court refused to adjourn in order to hear from her. She had concluded that the bleeding was due to an underlying brain abnormality. The father was convicted of second degree murder.
A Canadian court of appeals refused to grant a new trial, saying it was “unable to exclude the possibility that [the defense expert’s] evidence might have affected the jury’s verdict” but more than a possibility is needed in order to restart criminal procedures. The new evidence “lacks the strength necessary to outweigh the societal interest in the finality of criminal procedures.”
The defense lawyer said the high court had created “a recipe for injustice by ruling that society’s interest in concluding criminal proceedings outweighs a man’s right to present fresh evidence that could prove his innocence.” He said that despite the public having an interest in ensuring criminal cases don’t drag on for years, “society has no interest in seeing the wrong man convicted, finality or not.” In an inquiry into a previous wrongful conviction, a retired judge had recommended relaxing the rules governing the admission of fresh evidence on appeals. This decision, said the defense lawyer, was “a significant step in the wrong direction.”
0364: The defendant, 24, said that his namesake son, 7 months old, had fallen down a flight of stairs. He said he felt responsible for not watching the baby more closely, but denied doing anything intentional to harm him.
Doctors said a massive skull fracture and other head injuries could not have resulted from a fall down stairs. A neurosurgeon said the injuries could only have been caused by shaken baby syndrome, wherein a child is vigorously shaken by an adult. The fracture, they said, was caused by a strong blow comparable to one received in an auto accident. A 21-pound child could not have generated enough force in a fall.
The father had five previous felony convictions on gun and drug-related charges.
The jury took just one hour to convict of second degree murder. The defendant received a mandatory life sentence without parole.
The state appellate project represented the defendant on appeal. The trial court’s judgment was affirmed.
0365: The baby had been born 2 weeks premature, jaundiced and with a heart murmur. He improved, but at the age of 7 weeks he was rocked to sleep and laid on a sofa in a crowded apartment (3 adults and 3 children). The grandmother fell asleep on the floor and woke to find the baby on the floor. She laid him back on the couch but about two hours later woke again to find he had vomited. There was blood coming from his right nostril. He was cold to the touch and limp. The family called 911. The baby died.
Although the death was originally attributed to SIDS, the grandmother came under suspicious because firefighters said she seemed “apprehensive”. A homicide investigation was opened. She was charged with assault on a child resulting in death and the other children were taken out of the home. “It was like losing all of my family all at once,” said the baby’s mother. “I had no reason to live.” The family scraped together all the money they could but couldn’t afford a good lawyer. The lawyer they hired did nothing. Others later said she would have probably done better with a public defender.
The grandmother, 35, was convicted of assault on a child resulting in death.
Appeals to a state appellate court and state supreme court were unsuccessful. A university law professor took on the case and appealed to a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal, which usually gives states a lot of deference when it comes to the facts. In this case, the circuit court took the state courts of appeal to task for upholding a conviction based on scanty evidence.
Eight years after her prison term began, the circuit court overturned her conviction, saying, “There has very likely been a miscarriage of justice in this case.” The court said the prosecution’s case rested on one huge hypothetical, that the shaking was so violent it sheared parts of the brain stem. Prosecution experts provided no proof of such damage. This baby did not have any bruises, broken bones, or retinal hemorrhages. The autopsy showed some bleeding on the brain, but prosecution witnesses said it was not enough to kill him.
“An expert’s testimony as to a theoretical conclusion or inference does not rescue a case that suffers from an underlying insufficiency of evidence,” said the court. “Absence of evidence cannot constitute proof beyond a reasonable doubt.”
“Are you serious? Are you serious? Oh, my God—are you serious?” screamed the baby’s mother when she was called with the news that the court had ruled in her mother’s favor. “Thank you, Jesus! Thank you, Jesus! Thank you!”
“I knew the Lord would answer prayer. I didn’t know the day or the hour, but I knew it was coming,” said the defendant’s mother (baby’s great-grandmother).
Unfortunately for the family, prosecutors appealed to the United States Supreme Court, which sent the case back to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal for reconsideration.
The U.S. Circuit Court reaffirmed its prior decision 10 years after the trial. The state again petitioned the Supreme Court for review and three years later that court again reinstated the conviction. The case became a tug-of-war between the federal appeals court and the Supreme Court.
Eventually, the Supreme Court said doubts about the defendant's guilt were understandable, but that federal judges had no authority to second-guess a jury or the state courts that upheld the verdict. The Supreme Court said her only option was to seek clemency.
Fifteen years after the initial conviction, the governor of her state granted clemency.
0366: Three children, including a year-old baby, were upstairs playing in their parents’ bedroom before bedtime. The father, 34, had been in the room with them but went downstairs to get a bottle for the baby. He heard a thump and went back upstairs, where his older children said the baby had fallen off the bed.
The father took his son, who went limp, to the hospital. He was unresponsive so was flown to Children’s Hospital. Doctors said the symptoms they observed could not have been caused by the fall described. Despite the fact that the older children witnessed what had happened and told the police what they had seen, the father was charged with attempted second degree murder, first-degree assault, child abuse, and reckless endangerment. He was initially held without bond.
Due to massive bleeding and swelling in his brain, part of the baby’s skull was removed to relieve the pressure. That operation saved his life.
The baby’s mother, who works in the medical field, began doing research. Eventually, the family found out that the baby had a genetic bleeding disorder, von Willebrand’s disease, that had never been diagnosed. When the baby fell, a blood vessel broke and the blood did not clot.
The diagnosis was confirmed by an expert at a major hospital. About 1% of the population has the disorder. It causes people who sustain injuries, even minor ones, to bruise, bleed easily, and bleed more than normal. It is possible to go through life without knowing you have the disease. The mother and both older siblings were also discovered to have the disease.
15 months after the father was arrested, charges were dropped. He was finally able to move back in with his family. He had not been allowed to sleep in the family home or see the children without an adult escort. He hadn’t been allowed to be alone with the baby even at the hospital. The year had been financially and emotionally draining. “The nightmare is finally over,” he said.
“It’s sincerely our hope that others learn from our experience,” the father said, referring to the misdiagnosis. “The scary part is, if this could happen to me, it could happen to any father, any mother, any caregiver.”
The baby has neurological damage but continues to improve. Had he died as doctors expected that first night—had the emergency surgery not saved his life, the true diagnosis would never have been discovered. The defendant may well have been convicted, his older children deprived of a breadwinner and father.
0367: The mother’s boyfriend, 30, was caring for her 2-year-old daughter while she was at work. According to him, he had taken the girl upstairs to potty train. He left her on the toilet and returned downstairs. He heard a thud, ran upstairs, and found her unconscious on the bathroom floor. He assumed she had climbed up on the sink or toilet and fallen. He called 911.
The baby was taken to the local hospital, then flown to Children’s Hospital, where she died six days later. Doctors diagnosed shaken baby syndrome and said the injuries they observed were inconsistent with a fall. She had head injuries and a bruise on her buttock.
At the trial, a forensic dentist testified that the bruise on the baby’s buttock was a bite mark. He had compared it with indentations from the mother and the boyfriend and concluded to a reasonable degree of medical certainty that the marks were not created by the mother. He concluded that it was more likely than not that the boyfriend had caused the marks.
The jury deliberated less than three hours before convicting the defendant of murder. He was sentenced to 15 years to life. The defense attorney disputed the “teethmark” evidence, saying “If you look long enough, you can find anything.”
The defendant’s mother doubled over with grief. “I thought he would win this case. He’s never been violent. He’s so good with kids.”
The baby’s mother maintained her boyfriend was innocent during an appearance on a nationally televised talk show. She died of complications of diabetes 11 months after her little girl died.
An appeal arguing it was improper to introduce the alleged bite mark testimony was unsuccessful.
0368: The baby sitter, 23, told police the baby had choked on strained peaches and she tried to perform CPR before taking him to the hospital. The 5-month-old boy was found to have hemorrhages in his eyes and brain. The mother suspected her son had been killed. The sitter was questioned but charges were not pressed after she passed a polygraph test.
Nineteen years later, after the sitter pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of operating a day care without a license, the case of the baby’s death was reopened and she was charged with second degree murder. She was 44 by the time of the trial. By that time, polygraphs were no longer considered reliable. The district attorney said, “Quite frankly, who’s going to pass the polygraph? Someone who knows how to lie well.”
After the prosecution presented its evidence, the defense attorney argued for dismissal, saying, “The conduct must show no regard for the life of another. A significant segment of the population were unaware that shaken baby syndrome was dangerous. [The statute] says you have to know of the danger.” The judge refused to dismiss the charges.
The jury deliberated less than three hours before finding her guilty of murder. She was sentenced to 10 years. Two years after her conviction the CBS news magazine “48 Hours” filmed a segment on her case.
An appeal argued that the jury should have been instructed on a lesser-included offense, reckless homicide. It was unsuccessful.
0369: The father was working while his live-in girlfriend, 23, watched his 14-month-old daughter. She called him to say there was something wrong with the baby. He arrived home to find her vomiting and unresponsive. She was resuscitated by rescue personnel but died the following Monday.
The girlfriend, who had been alone with the child, was charged with manslaughter after doctors diagnosed shaken baby syndrome.
The defense said the baby had a history of seizures and may have suffered from an undiagnosed neurological condition. Another medical examiner came to a different conclusion, but was not called to testify.
“I didn’t do anything to hurt her,” the girlfriend said at her sentencing hearing. She was sentenced to 15 years.
An appeal argued that a video of the defendant’s interview with police should not have been shown. It contained comments by the detective that should not have been heard by the jury. He offered his own theory of events leading to the baby’s death. The public defender was supposed to have reviewed the tape before the trial but did not. “The error was not harmless because [the detective’s] out-of-court comments as to what he believed happened and that he believed the defendant killed the baby were so prejudicial that the erroneous admission of the statements cannot be considered harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.”
The appeals court agreed and granted a new trial. There were no further news reports so it might be inferred that she was not retried.
0370: The baby had difficulty breathing after birth because he was tangled in the umbilical cord. His head was very large, in the 95th percentile for babies his age.
On the day in question, the mother said she woke the 5-month-old baby’s father at 7:45 a.m. She said the baby had been fed, had a new diaper, and was in his crib. The father, 21, slept until 10 a.m. or so and woke to the sound of the baby crying. He said he fixed him a bottle. He propped it up with a small pillow in the bassinet for the baby to drink while he went to the bathroom. “He started crying and gagging,” the father said. He propped the bottle up again and returned to the bathroom. When he came back, the baby wasn’t breathing. “He was like a wet noodle when I picked him up,” said the father. “I was kind of panicky.”
The couple didn’t have a phone in the apartment, so he knocked on doors until he found someone to help. The baby was taken to a local hospital, then flown to Children’s Hospital, where shaken baby syndrome was diagnosed. “Unless these injuries are presented with a history of an immediate, preceding, serious traumatic event, they are only consistent with shaken-baby syndrome,” said the doctor. The family reported some recent accidents, a fall off the couch and an unintentional lift into a ceiling fan. Doctors did not consider them, nor the fact that the baby’s head was unusually large, to be factors. An attorney for CPS said the issue of the baby’s head size was “a smokescreen of irrelevant medical issues and suppositions.” They considered it more significant that the father had stopped taking medication for bipolar disorder.
Doctors said most of the baby’s cerebral cortex had been irreversibly damaged and he would never recover. They recommended removing him from life support and entering a do-not-resuscitate order. They did not recommend removing his feeding tube. The parents refused to give permission for that. Although the parents were not married, the mother stood by the defendant and insisted he was innocent. Authorities then suggested she may have played a role in his injuries. They said she could not be ruled out as a perpetrator of an older injury that could not be timed.
One doctor suggested that a chronic buildup of fluid inside the baby’s skull may have torn a blood vessel and resulted in his breathing loss. “I would not call this shaken baby syndrome,” he said. “We come to this conclusion too quick and too often. ... I’m somewhat appalled that anyone would want to stop treating him. I don’t see how it is in his best interest to be dead.”
The county judge took legal guardianship away from the parents, saying they had motive to refuse his being removed from life support because then they would be charged with homicide and “[The baby’s] existence is not life but a cruel shadow of life.” The parents cited pro-life beliefs. “To remove the breathing apparatus, and have someone suffocate, and their feeding tube, which would starve someone, is not humane. It is a ghastly death,” said the paternal grandmother. The maternal grandmother supported removing the baby from life support. “His soul is already gone,” she said. The father said, “I have complete faith in God that everything is going to work out. I think 20 years from now he [the child] is going to go up to Children’s Hospital and give a big smile and say, ‘Hey, I’m still here.’”
An appeals court ordered affirmed the lower court’s ruling and the decision was taken before the state Supreme Court. They ruled that the right to withdraw life support remained with the parents until their parental rights are permanently terminated. A year after the baby collapsed, the baby’s paternal grandmother assumed custody.
After that decision, the father was charged with felonious assault and child endangering. Bond was $50,000 cash. He was found guilty and sentenced to the maximum of 8 years. His response to the judge was, “No matter what anybody thinks about me, me and God know the truth and when I die all I have to do is answer to God.”
0371: The mother’s boyfriend, 23, had been alone with the baby for less than half an hour when he called his father’s house to tell them his girlfriend’s 2-year-old daughter was hurt. Within two minutes, they arrived to transport the baby to the hospital. They met an ambulance 20 minutes later. During that 20 minutes, the defendant kept screaming at his father to “drive, drive, drive” while he yelled at the girl to wake up and desperately tried CPR. “It looked very bad,” said another occupant of the car. “She didn’t seem to be breathing very well ... she was making gasping noises ... she was stiff all over” and she was unconscious.
There was a bump “like a welt” on the back of the little girl’s head. The defendant said she had fallen down stairs. She died three days later.
The autopsy report said the injuries were the result of shaken baby syndrome and asphyxia due to strangulation. “It’s quite possible that she was shaken while being held by the neck,” one doctor testified.
The defendant was charged with murder. After an 11-day bench trial, the judge acquitted him of murder but convicted him of manslaughter and sentenced him to 4.5 years. About 18 months later, he was released on full parole. Parole board members wrote, “What has surfaced as the greatest concern is the degree of denial or responsibility expressed. [You deny] being fully accountable for the tragic death of your young victim.” But given his limited criminal record and absence of a substance abuse or aggressiveness problem, the board supported a liberal release. They felt that “greater and longer-term public safety is achieved through the timely and constructive return of you to the community.”
0372: The mother’s boyfriend, 28, was watching an 18-month old girl when, he said, she fell down the stairs and began convulsing. Doctors said it would be “extremely rare” for a stairway fall to cause severe brain injuries. Doctors said the baby had signs of shaken baby syndrome, including retinal bleeding, a blood clot on the brain, and torn brain tissue. She also had bruising on her forehead and a blunt-force injury to the right side of her head. There were also burn marks on her buttocks, which the defense maintained were side-effects of the anti-seizure medicine she had been given. The prosecution maintained that all the injuries taken together resulted in the diagnosis.
The defendant was arrested on two charges: child abuse resulting in death and child abuse resulting in serious bodily injury.
At the trial, doctors said they were pretty sure it was shaken baby syndrome but they couldn’t completely, totally rule out the possibility that it was something else. They left the decision up to the jury.
The jury took just two hours to convict. The defendant was sentenced to 48 years for child abuse resulting in death and 32 years for the other charge, to be served consecutively (80 years total).
The prosecutor said, “It was a case based on medical evidence, and it was good to see that 12 people could agree on it.” The defense attorney said, “A young child died, and someone has to pay.”
There had been previous complaints to social services during the 16 months preceding the child’s death.
An appeal was unsuccessful.
0373: The 7-week-old baby’s mentally ill father, 30, was charged with second degree murder three years after the baby’s death.
The original pathologist who conducted the autopsy concluded the baby’s death was caused by the resuscitation efforts of an untrained person. The case was referred to another pathologist who had the baby’s body exhumed. He said the baby was the victim of deliberate bodily harm and his opinion led to the filing of the murder charge.
The following year, an “alarming” article raised questions about the second pathologist’s work, and he was eventually dropped as an expert witness, on the eve of the preliminary hearing. Nevertheless, the defendant plea bargained to manslaughter and was sentenced to two years less a day. He had already spent four years in custody awaiting trial.
Ten years after the baby’s death, the pathologist in this case was investigated in a different Canadian province for his faulty work on child deaths. A report found mistakes in 20 child-death cases that might have resulted in the possible wrongful conviction of as many as 13 people.
He had been considered top-notch in his field of forensic child pathology and had been singled out as one of only four Canadians with this rare expertise. When complaints started coming in about him, top officials allegedly blocked them.
The pathologist said he had a passion for uncovering the truth in child deaths and “a thing against people who hurt children.” His life passion, he said, was finding out the truth for parents who have lost babies. His unit used arrest warrants to reinvestigate cases of SIDS. He did autopsies of babies’ exhumed bodies that led to new murder charges. He received a caution from a college of physicians and surgeons, saying he was “overly dogmatic” and had a “tendency towards overstatement.”
Eventually, a coroner’s inquiry reviewed 45 child autopsies he had done in which he had concluded that the cause of death was either homicide or criminally suspicious. In 20 of them, 13 of which resulted in convictions, his conclusions were deemed to be
questionable. Samples were missing or misplaced. He was removed from the roster of forensic pathologists permitted to conduct autopsies in suspicious deaths when some of the complaints were upheld.
A different province rejected his application for appointment, but was overruled when he appeal. The tribunal said the health authority “violated the presumption of innocence which should have been afforded [the doctor].”
The commissioner of the inquiry sought to meet with the families of the people affected by the doctor’s errors.
0374: A 54-year-old licensed daycare provider called 911 to report that a 4-month-old baby in her care had stopped breathing. He was pronounced dead soon after he reached the hospital. The autopsy report stated there were tears in the boy’s brain, ruptured optic nerves and other injuries consistent with shaken baby syndrome.
The defendant had cared for infants for more than 20 years. She came highly recommended, with scores of letters from appreciative parents.
Police asked the parents whether they ever became frustrated enough to shake their son. They said of course not. Suspicion focused on the sitter. She was charged with murder and held on $1 million bail.
A little over three months later, charges were dropped. Prosecutors told the judge there was no evidence to back up the charges. A recent, more in-depth brain analysis had shown that the baby suffered two of the three brain hemorrhages before he came into the care of the sitter, and tests could not determine whether the injuries were intentional or accidental. The new cause of death was listed as “acute, subacute and chronic subdural and subarachnoid hemorrhage due to closed blunt force trauma to the head.”
“My husband and I and our family have not slept in all these months. I lost my business, and my family and friends had to put up $1 million bail. I’m still in shock.”
The defense attorney said the case raised serious questions about the process that led to her arrest. Police and prosecutors denied that they had rushed to judgment, saying the initial examination at the coroner’s lab showed evidence of shaken baby syndrome.
It didn’t appear that law enforcement or negligence was to blame, one person said. It just took time for the facts to surface.
0375: “It’s a baby about 4 months old I’m keeping and she’s not breathing!” a distressed-sounding sitter told the 911 operator. “...You know CPR?” she was asked. “I’ve been trying that! She spit up a lot of stuff!”
The sitter, a retired licensed practical nurse, denied that she hurt the child in any way. Another child’s mother had dropped her older daughter off 14 minutes before the 911 call and noted that the baby was fine and being fed. Everything was normal and calm in the household at that time. Defense lawyers asked how it could be that in less than 14 minutes, the veteran sitter could become so upset our out-of-control that she shook an infant who couldn’t have been crying for long, if at all.
Medical experts maintained that pathologists can confidently diagnose shaken baby syndrome when they find certain injuries. Friends and parents of other children she has cared for were just as confident of her innocence. She had no hint of a violent record. Her nursing career was spotless. Authorities said her background was irrelevant.
When the suggestion was made that someone else might have hurt the child, the prosecutor told the defendant he hoped she went to hell. He later apologized in writing. She was charged with murder and held without bond. She spent 11 weeks in jail before her attorney convinced the judge to grant bond of $300,000. She came out of jail with a broken hip and arm from a fall.
She agreed to talk to reporters before her trial because, she said, “I’m innocent...You need to get both sides.” She said the baby had never been cranky. After the other mother left, she started feeding another child a snack. She was talking to the baby at the same time and looking over there. The baby quit moving her arms. She was just pale. She wasn’t breathing. I jerked her up. Phlegm was pouring out of her little body. I did CPR and called 911. I did everything I could humanly do for that baby.”
“You think the truth is going to prevail,” she said. “I told the truth and I’m still telling the truth.”
Doctors said her account of that last day was virtually self-incriminating. A baby with such injuries, they said, could not possibly behave normally and then suddenly collapse. She certainly couldn’t have eaten. Although sometimes people can have a “lucid interval”, the type of bleeding in those cases is epidural, not subdural.
Parents of other children in her care continued to take them to her until she was jailed. “She was wonderful,” said one. “She was the grandmother-type figure.”
A sterling reputation may help rule out a suspect in a home burglary, but not shaken baby syndrome. “People who shake or abuse babies are not part of the criminal class,” said one authority. “They are not bank robbers. They are loving parents, gray-haired ladies who go to church three times a day.”
A doctor’s offhand comment to a prosecutor prompted a deeper review of the case, which led to the dismissal of charges. Doctors concluded there was evidence that the baby had a medical condition that interfered with the clotting of blood.
Said the sitter upon her release, “If I could give my life now to bring that baby back, I’d do it in a heartbeat. If I’d hurt that baby accidentally I would have said so and taken my punishment, but I didn’t do anything.” She added, “My faith is great. I prayed for the Lord’s will to be done. I knew I was innocent. I had God on my side.”
The parents were confused. “I hope they’re right, but we thought they were right three years ago. We don’t want anyone going to jail for something they didn’t do.”
The prosecutor said, “In a week’s time we went from a slam-dunk murder case to ‘We don’t think this was a criminal death.’”
0376: A two-year-old girl was brought to a hospital in Hong Kong, almost unconscious. The sitter said he had vomited and she scooped him up in her arms and rushed for help, accidentally banging his head on the door on the way out. The baby later died and her Indonesian babysitter was accused of shaking her.
The child’s father told the jury that the sitter got on well with the family and never complained during her six months with them, during which she did not take a day off. He said his baby daughter adored the defendant.
The judge directed a jury to drop the charge of manslaughter against a 26-year-old domestic helper because the conflicting medical evidence was “guesswork.” “In our system of justice,” he said, “a jury is not concerned with probabilities, with possibilities, with speculation, or with guessing.”
0377: An Indonesian maid, 29, was alone with a 5-month-old boy when he collapsed. He was rushed to a hospital in Hong Kong with no external injuries. Doctors suspected shaken baby syndrome and the sitter was charged with manslaughter.
She speculated that the injuries may have occurred when his older brother bumped her while she was nursing the child.
The nine day trial resulted in a hung jury. The prosecution, with the permission of the parents, declined to try the case again.
Experts were divided about whether the case should have gone to court in the first place, said the defense attorney. He had argued in pre-trial hearings that the prosecution’s evidence (medical opinions only) was insufficient.
0378: A 3-month-old boy was spending his second day with the sitter, 40. Both days he was with her, he was very lethargic. He didn’t cry and he didn’t want to eat. He had been ill the week before when the parents interviewed her and she suggested they take him to the doctor. They hadn’t. When she went to change him on the day in question, he suffered a seizure and she called 911. Medics arrived within a few minutes and rushed him to the hospital. Doctors soon told the parents the sitter had shaken the baby, that they knew it positively because of his eyes. Shaken baby syndrome “is not tough to see,” said one of the doctors. “It’s easy to make the diagnosis.” The baby died 11 days later.
The medical examiner ruled that the baby had died of natural causes. Police stopped their investigation. CPS investigated, then wrote a letter saying complaints against the sitter were unfounded. The sitter’s license was restored and she continued to care for children. That letter and its accompanying file were later destroyed.
The medical examiner continued to ponder the case. He sent the evidence to more experts, some of whom were certain the baby had been shaken. One expert was adamant that abnormalities in the baby’s brain caused the death. Eleven months after the death, a new death certificate was issued saying the death was a homicide. Police reopened the case. Prosecutors said more evidence was needed, so other experts were sought who would testify it was SBS. The sitter passed a polygraph. Neither parent passed. The father had a criminal history. Timing was the big issue.
48 Hours called and asked to cover the case. The sitter and her husband said no. “Win or lose, we don’t want a spectacle. We don’t want a legacy. We don’t want our kids’ friends saying they did research on your mom.”
Nearly two years after the baby died, the sitter was charged with murder and child neglect. The baby’s parents were incensed that it had taken so long to file charges.
When the trial was scheduled, one of the experts said she was too busy to testify. The other was forbidden to testify by the National Institute of Heath, her employer. “This reflects the federal government’s desire to remain neutral in matters such as these,” said an NIH spokesman. The medical examiner had refused to turn over slides and X-rays of the baby’s brain and tried to quash a subpoena for them. After these setbacks, a week before the trial, the police officer had a sudden recollection of a statement the sitter said she had never made.
The sitter was pregnant during the trial. The jury acquitted her of felony murder and child neglect. They could not reach a verdict on involuntary manslaughter. The case was not retried.
The sitter insisted on her innocence throughout. “I’ll never take a [plea] deal,” she said. “I’m not going to admit to something I didn’t do. It’s not my job to prove what did happen. I don’t know what happened to him!”
“What I thought about the system and what is is so different. I’m so disappointed! I had faith in the system,” she said. “I didn’t think police were allowed to lie. They say the end justifies the means. They’re allowed by law to fabricate ‘evidence’ if it extorts a confession.” She refused to talk to police when she realized she was a suspect.
“I just wish I could have done something to save this child,” she said.
The parents sued for damages. Six years after the incident, a civil trial was held. The sitter’s insurance company provided a lawyer, who emphasized the pre-existing injuries. The jury ruled against the parents and in favor of the sitter.
0379: The father, 35, told investigators he was playing with his 2-month-old son on Super Bowl Sunday, repeatedly throwing him in the air. The boy fell, bounced off his shoulder, and then hit his head on a coffee table. When the baby’s mother returned after a short trip to the store, she found the baby groaning, twitching and jerking. The father said he thought he was going to the bathroom.
Under police interrogation, he admitted to shaking him after the fall, when he started screaming. The boy’s injuries included swelling and bleeding of the brain and retinal hemorrhaging.
The defense maintained that it was a tragic, reckless accident, and that the “confession” was extracted after the investigator told him he’d better confess or his daughter “would be having breakfast with a stranger”, meaning the state would take her away.
A defense medical expert attributed the brain bleeding to blood thinning drugs that were given before the boy’s organs were harvested for donation.
Five and a half years after the incident, the father was acquitted of manslaughter but convicted of child endangerment. He was sentenced to the minimum, 5 years.
0380: Five days before the baby girl’s collapse, she began sleeping much more than usual and seemed “very crabby.” She was teething. The next day she began vomiting and was fussy. She had several small bumps to her head in the days before her collapse.
Rescuers were called to the sitter’s home after the 14-month-old girl was found unresponsive. The baby died the following day. An autopsy revealed injuries consistent with child abuse. The sitter, 28, called an attorney shortly before the baby died and was advised to have no further contact with the parents and not to attend the baby’s funeral. She said that she had had concerns about the girl being abused or mistreated at home and had told her husband, but not DCFS, about her suspicions.
Two years after the baby’s death, the sitter was charged with murder. Bond was set at $3 million. Although it was later reduced to $1 million, she could not raise it.
“It was a very aggressive, intensive investigation,” the defense attorney said. “The fact that we hadn’t heard anything in over a year, we felt it was resolved. I can’t imagine what could have changed.”
The sitter, a mother of two with a perfect history, vehemently denied the charges. She was so adamant about her innocence that she refused a plea bargain for 10 years and gambled on a trial. She refused to allow jurors to consider a lesser offense.
The three week trial consisted largely of dueling medical experts. The defense claimed a recent bump caused an old injury to worsen. After eight hours of deliberations, the jury returned a guilty verdict. The jury foreman accused prosecutors of being “overzealous” in bringing a first degree murder charge. He said the jury didn’t believe that she never shook the girl, but disagreed as to whether the sitter intended to kill or seriously injure the baby.
“I felt like we were trying to fit a square peg into a round hole,” he said. “We didn’t want her to walk (free) or to not make a decision and force a mistrial. But I just don’t see how I could say she intended to kill the child.” He wrote a letter to the judge requesting the minimum sentence and said he thought the jury would have preferred to convict on a lesser charge.
The judge sentenced her to 35 years, saying, “There certainly isn’t any segment of society more vulnerable or in need of protection than our children.”
The baby’s parents said they’d never forgive her. They filed a civil suit for damages. They chastised her for having no remorse. She denied having any knowledge of how the child was fatally injured and insisted she did not hurt him.
An appeal was unsuccessful.
0381: The baby’s aunt, a 40-year-old mother of five, took the girl and her younger brother into her home after their mother went to jail for drug crimes. “I felt sorry for the kids,” she said.
She said that she was upstairs bathing her two infant sons when her daughters, aged 9 and 11, began screaming from the basement. She ran down to find her niece unconscious on the floor. The little girl was rushed to the hospital. Doctors did not believe the story about a fall from the top bunk of a bunk bed.
Seven months after the 3-year-old girl died, the aunt was charged with murder. She had been the only adult present when the child was injured.
After a seven-day bench trial, the judge said he needed a few weeks to process the “unusual amount of information” that had been presented at the trial. The defense asserted the little girl sustained her injuries after falling from a bunkbed, and that the 50 bruises and scrapes of different ages on the girl’s body were mainly self-inflicted. She was an emotionally disturbed, self destructive girl who bit herself and tore hunks of hair from her head.
The judge acquitted, saying the evidence was insufficient. He told a reporter, “The child was battered. The problem was connecting it to [the defendant]. To conclude she did it, I would have to conclude the children and other witnesses were lying, and I don’t think they were.” He said shaken baby syndrome seemed a more likely cause of death than a short fall, but her relatively advanced age, 3 years, was inconsistent with that conclusion. He doubted that the defendant, 5’4” and 105 pounds, was capable of shaking the girl with the violence prosecution experts claimed would be necessary to cause death. “There were a lot of inconsistencies. It was a difficult case.”
The prosecutor was deeply disappointed. Shaken baby syndrome seemed to be on trial along with the defendant, raising concerns that an acquittal might undermine the validity of the syndrome. He discounted the defendant’s reputation as a good mother and a very nurturing woman. “Child homicide is a secret crime,” he said. “People don’t kill children in front of others.”
0382: The father, 22, told investigators he had accidentally dropped his 4-month-old son on his head after removing him from a swing. When he discovered the baby wasn’t breathing, he called his father and then 911. The baby was found to have three bruises to his head along with a skull fracture and a swollen brain. Doctors said the father’s account did not match the injuries.
The baby died three days later and the father was charged with first degree murder.
The first trial ended in a mistrial. The jury panel was unable to decide if he was guilty of murder or of a lesser charge or was innocent.
Public defenders did not give opening statements in either trial. They asked the court to ban the words “shaken baby syndrome” from the trial because it implies an intentional act and is unfairly prejudicial. The judge ruled those words could be used, but that prosecution witnesses could not use the word “murder.” The prosecutor mentioned in opening statements that the defense expert had testified 47 of 50 times for the defense, implying bias.
The father was convicted at the second trial and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. An appeal was unsuccessful.
0383: The baby was hospitalized. Doctors suspected abuse and police began an investigation. The baby’s older brother was removed from the home. Three weeks later, both children were returned to the home after a medical child abuse expert said he thought someone other than the parents could have caused the injuries.
“I looked at this case very thoroughly,” he said. “The parents did not fail to answer any questions. It’s very clear, at least from the evidence, that this seems to be a one-time occurrence. The window of time that I believe he was injured would make it possible that somebody other than the parents was responsible.”
Police strongly objected to the decision to let the children return home. A police spokesman said that the doctor’s role was to render a medical assessment, not a criminal one. The parents had not spoken to police for several weeks, after an attorney advised against it because they were considered suspects.
“I wouldn’t have recommended that he be discharged there if I thought he would be at further risk in that environment,” said the doctor.
The baby recovered.
0384: The father told the 911 dispatcher that his 7-month-old son had fallen out of his arms. Rescuers found him unconscious and unresponsive to medical treatment. “Based on the injuries, we had to start questioning [his account],” said a detective.
The father was charged with aggravated battery to a child. Bond was $100,000.
Nine months later, the father was admitted to a mental health center. He refused medication and twice, doctors failed to get a judge’s permission to involuntarily medicate him.
Defense lawyers said he was unfit to stand trial. He has myriad paranoid delusions and early signs of schizophrenia. The mother said she never saw him harm the child.
Three years and three months after the incident, the father pleaded guilty to battery and was sentenced to six years.
The baby was in a coma for several months but appears to have had no long-term injuries.
0385: The father said he panicked when he found his 2-month-old daughter choking on milk. He says he shook her to try to wake her and then called 911.
His attorney said he was heartbroken when she died.
He was indicted on second degree murder charges but a jury found him guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter. The judge sentenced him to 2-6 years.
The district attorney says that the jury gave him a break and the judge both gave him a second break. The family was not unhappy with the sentence. They said they had forgiven him and just wanted to move on.
0386: The father, 25, first told police he had “forcefully” placed the 4-month-old infant in a bouncer swing. He claimed the child slipped from the swing and hit his head and cheek on the floor. He said he then picked up the infant, placed him in the bouncer and assumed the child went to sleep because he stopped crying. He later discovered the child was not breathing.
Medics attempted to revive the boy, but were unsuccessful. The father was accused of causing his death by shaking him.
Nearly a year after the baby’s death, the father pleaded guilty to intentional abuse of a child. He said he shook the infant because he wouldn’t stop crying. “I’m here accepting the responsibility of the death of my own child. I’ve been carrying around a dark secret—guilt,” he said. “I’ll have to take that with me for the rest of my life. I’ve made peace with the Lord.”
The family said he is not a bad person, simply someone who made a tragic mistake. A co-worker said his “remorse and pain was very evident” following the incident. A cellmate said the incident occurred when the defendant was intoxicated. He apologized to the community. “My children are not the only victims. You are also a victim to what I did,” he said.
The district attorney noted that had the infant died after June 17, when a stiffer state law went into effect, he would have received a mandatory life sentence rather than 18 years.
0387: Less than three hours after the year-old boy arrived at her day care, the sitter called 911 to report he was having difficulty breathing. Doctors found an acute subdural hematoma. His brain was swelling dangerously. Thanks to emergency surgery, he survived, but incurred severe brain damage. A doctor told investigators that the injury could have been caused only by the sitter.
At 9:00 p.m., the sitter was summoned to the sheriff’s office, where she was questioned for five hours. No attorney was present. She denied hurting the baby. She was finally allowed to return home about 2:00 a.m. Days later, she was charged with felony aggravated assault.
On the strength of medical testimony that the injury could only have occurred immediately prior to the baby’s collapse, a jury convicted. While awaiting sentencing, the baby’s parents sued in civil court for what they expected to be a lifetime of medical care for the boy. The parents had met each other in jail where they were both serving sentences. They had two children and a volatile relationship, according to police reports and courtroom testimony.
It was the civil lawsuit that spurred defense attorneys to seek additional medical records. In the dozens of documents provided, the pathology report was nowhere to be found. It was conspicuous by its absence. The doctor’s testimony at the trial had referred to it, but it was not in evidence.
Defense attorneys kept digging for the pathology report. They only found it after prodding a clerk in the medical center’s pathology department.
“It was a bomb,” said one of the attorneys. “It was remarkable because it showed old blood from a previous brain injury. The whole premise of the prosecution’s case was that it had to be the sitter because it happened that morning. The pathology report says that is not true.”
The defense lawyers won a new trial based on an improper jury instruction. For the second trial, they opted for a bench trial. Despite the revelation of the pathology analysis, the prosecution experts did not change their testimony. They insisted the injury was new and not the result of previous trauma. The pathologist who wrote the report said his analysis revealed bleeding that was three days old. Another defense expert said the bleeding could be even older.
The judge acquitted. The prosecutor said he was surprised and disappointed in the children’s hospital. If they had had that report, he said, he didn’t know if the trial would have gone forward without a thorough investigation of other possible suspects.
The sitter’s father was angry at the doctors and authorities. He said going forward with a second trial after the discover of the pathology report was unconscionable. “As soon as I heard that, I just didn’t understand why. The only thing I was thinking is, they are going to put someone in jail, no matter what.”
The sitter wept for her three children, who were ridiculed at school, for her husband, who spent the family’s entire savings and for the baby, who will never have a normal life. The father said, “Now everything is gone. I don’t care about the money. Thank God I have hands to work. Maybe someday we can recover, I don’t know. But they threw my wife’s reputation out the window. It’s going to be hard.”
0388: Jurors heard the 911 tape, in which the father, 25, reported that his 38-day-old daughter was in trouble: “My daughter, she won’t wake up! She stopped breathing and I keep, I shake her and she won’t wake up... She’s not, she’s not breathing... Oh my God! Am I going to lose her?
Defense attorneys said the “shaking” was in an attempt to resuscitate the child.
She was found to have retinal hemorrhaging, bruising beneath the scalp, and swelling of the brain. The mother testified that the baby had been “whiny” that morning, and throwing up. She was not herself, she said. The child slept and did not eat from 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. that day.
The defendant was not allowed furlough from jail to recuperate from throat surgery at home.
The jury found the defendant not guilty of first degree murder and rejected a finding of involuntary manslaughter.
0389: The mother’s boyfriend admitted to nearly shaking her 3-month-old daughter to death. He pleaded guilty to one count of aggravated domestic assault-first degree and was sentenced to eight years.
He first told police the baby had rolled off a bed while he was changing her diaper. Doctors contested that story, saying they found two rib fractures, three skull fractures, two subdural hematomas and retinal hemorrhages, injuries consistent with shaken baby syndrome.
A witness who had previously watched the girl reported that the day before her hospitalization, she “appeared pale and more fussy than usual.”
Neighbors from an adjacent apartment reported hearing loud yelling and swearing coming from the residence, and “what sounded like a person being smacked by another person.” The baby was crying and the man was yelling “shut up.” The neighbor said it seemed like the defendant was very intolerant of the children and often yelled at them when they cried.
The man eventually admitted to authorities that he had shaken the baby two days prior to her hospitalization, after unsuccessfully trying to stop her from crying. He became so frustrated that he grabbed her from her seat, shook her several times with considerable force, and slammed her down. He said he did not realize the force he used.
The child fully recovered from her injuries.
0390: The father, 23, was home alone with his 4-month-old girl when she became limp and stopped breathing. Three days later, she died and the father was charged with first degree reckless homicide. He was convicted and sentenced to 20 years.
Three years later, a judge granted him a new trial “in the interest of justice” saying the jurors did not hear debate about Shaken Baby Syndrome or other possible causes of death. He wrote, “[The] jury did not hear about the debate over SBS or a possible other cause of death based upon the autopsy. Instead, the State assertively and repetitively relied upon shaken baby syndrome to prove both that the defendant must have shaken the baby and by that means caused her death.
Protested the executive director of the Shaken Baby Alliance, “If shaking didn’t hurt children, why do we have so many people with serious or fatal injuries?” Bond was set at $200,000 and he was unable to raise the money so was required to await the second trial in jail.
Prosecutors appealed. The appeals court affirmed the lower court’s decision to hold a new trial and ruled that his confession was voluntary and not coerced, so could be used again as evidence. His attorney argued that police had extracted a false confession from a young man with an 8th grade education who was grieving and sleep-deprived.
More than six years after his conviction, an appeals court granted a new trial.
0391: The baby’s father, 27, was the only adult present when his 10-week-old son stopped breathing. He was charged with capital murder. He had no criminal history and was described by those who knew him as a very loving, caring father. The family raised his $50,000 bail and numerous family members attended the trial each day to support him.
The mother testified that she had been sick often during her pregnancy and had a very difficult delivery. The baby had bruises the day she brought him home from the hospital. She said the baby suffered from constipation, cried often and had trouble eating. He had experienced problems since delivery but the doctor did not record them, only told her she was just a nervous mother.
She was shocked when the doctor told her the child had rib fractures. He first told her they were two and a half months old. When he found out the baby was just 10 weeks old, he said they were more like eight or nine days old. That doctor, at trial, said two weeks old. He also testified, “Blood is found only when the brain is shaken vigorously.” He demonstrated for the jury with a plastic doll by shaking it forcefully and hitting its head on the desk. He said the baby had flame-shaped retinal hemorrhages. “This was classic shaken baby syndrome,” he said.
The mother said her requests for more testing were not honored. “He sat us down and said it was shaken baby syndrome and I still asked him to do the other tests and he said he did not need to,” she said. “I don’t think it was abuse.” The doctor told her he was not 100% sure it was abuse but he recorded that as the cause of death anyway.
The defense claimed the baby may have died from vitamin deficiencies complicated by a series of vaccine shots he received. A defense medical expert said antibiotics taken by the mother during pregnancy may have killed bacteria needed to produce vitamins C and K, causing acute infantile scurvy. The baby received six vaccines two weeks before he ceased breathing. This, he said, could have contributed to his demise. After the vaccines he was not well. He slipped from 11 pounds to 6.8 pounds.
The CPS worker made much of the fact that the family was “uncooperative” and refused to talk to her after they had been accused. She said she didn’t see any remorse from the family.
When the guilty verdict came in after just four hours of deliberation, wails erupted from devastated family members. The charge, capital murder, is levied when the victim is less than 6 years old. It carried an automatic life sentence with a mandatory 40 years before parole, or the death sentence, which was not sought.
The defense attorney said that once doctors and police decided the baby died from abuse, they overlooked other factors that could have contributed. “God forbid the day we allow doctors to become prosecutors, judge and jury,” he said.
At sentencing, the defendant said, “I loved my son. I still love him. If I had done anything wrong, I would have taken full responsibility. I am innocent.”
His appeal did not succeed.
0392: The baby had had a very difficult birth, 56 hours of failed labor. His mother had been hospitalized for mental illness and drug problems as a teenager. She was depressed and cut herself because it “made her feel good.” She ran into significant financial problems and the grandparents were concerned about the baby’s well being.
In an effort to help her, the 5-month-old baby’s grandmother, 45, offered to provide day care while the mother worked. After she picked him up the day he collapsed, he was unusually quiet. His mother said he had not eaten since morning. He later started fussing so she checked his diaper and prepared a bottle. He took four ounces of formula, burped, and took three more. She sat him down on his rocking chair. He turned bright red and stiffened up. She put him on the floor. He turned on his side and formula came out of his nose.
He was taken to the hospital where he died three days later. Although the baby had no fractures, no spinal-cord injury, and no bruises or outward signs of abuse, the doctors quickly diagnosed shaken baby syndrome. The grandmother, the last person with the child, was arrested and charged with first degree murder and child abuse resulting in death. Bond was $150,000.
The defense experts said the baby had cerebral venous thrombosis, a pre-existing condition. His head size had jumped from the 70th to the 95th percentile during the last two months of his life. He had a seizure, asphyxiated on his formula, and died. The cranial pressure, they said caused the other symptoms and were exacerbated by hypoxia, or lack of oxygen, once he stopped breathing. The defense attorney described the boy as a time bomb whose pre-existing brain injuries detonated while under the care of his grandmother. Doctors and prosecutors, he said, jumped to the conclusion that the cause was shaken baby syndrome and no other alternatives were considered. The doctors said they never jump to conclusions. The prosecutor said that the defense experts were only interested in money, although two of them had waived their fees to testify in this case.
In the first trial, in 2000, the jury acquitted the defendant of first degree murder and hung 6-6 on the charge of child abuse resulting in death. In the second trial, she was convicted of child abuse resulting in death, and was sentenced to the mandatory 16 years.
A juror’s conscience bothered him after the guilty verdict, however. The day afterward, he called the foreman and the two of them revealed to the judge that one juror had downloaded information from the Internet on the drug Paxil, which the defendant was taking, and shared it with other jurors. Paxil is a type of antidepressant, which some critics claim make people violent and suicidal. The juror’s action was specifically against the judge’s orders, but had an effect on the verdict as the jurors developed their own theory of the crime, that she suffered from a “phobia” or “panic disorder” and could have “temporarily lost control.”
Although the trial judge refused to throw out the conviction, a court of appeals disagreed. Prosecutors appealed to the state Supreme Court, which agreed that the conviction should be overturned because of the juror’s misconduct.
Prosecutors decided to try the case again. To avoid a third trial, the defendant entered an Alford plea to the charge of criminally negligent homicide. That carried a lesser sentence than she had already served. She continued to maintain her innocence. On the question of her apparent lack of remorse, she said, “How can you feel remorse for something you did not do?” The entire saga took more than 8 years, two of which she had spent in prison.
The baby’s mother and aunt began speaking at child abuse events and the baby’s death became a rallying cry for child abuse opponents in the area.
0393: About a year after his 3-month-old daughter’s death, the father, 22, was acquitted of murder and the jury deadlocked on the charge of child abuse resulting in death. He was retried nearly a year later. That jury acquitted him of child abuse resulting in death but convicted him of child abuse resulting in serious bodily injury.
Jurors said the father was responsible because he left the little girl unattended in the bathroom, where she slipped underwater. They rejected the prosecution’s assertion that he shook the baby so hard she suffered brain damage and died later the same day.
Prior to his sentencing, he was aggressively prosecuted for drug possession and bail bond violation.
He was sentenced to 8 years.
0394: The baby was premature, underweight, and had suffered three episodes in which he became limp, stopped breathing, and was taken to the hospital. The last of those times, a doctor said something they thought was strange at the time, “If it happens again, whatever you do, don’t shake your baby—you’ll end up on shaken baby syndrome charges.”
On a day when the father, 26, was alone caring for him, he said his 4-month-old son vomited violently and stopped breathing. He was taken to the hospital again.
The first CAT scan showed no serious damage, but a later one showed bleeding in the brain and eyes, as well as a skull fracture. “The whole atmosphere changed then,” said the mother. “The doctors started asking different questions. ... They said they were going to inform social services and police, but it didn’t really register. Looking back, it seems surreal. You know it’s happening but you don’t want to believe it’s happening. We were just thinking about seeing [the baby], being with him.”
The baby died four days later. A day after, police came into the parent’s apartment and arrested the father. He was charged with murder. The charge was reduced to manslaughter at the trial and he was found guilty after just 90 minutes of deliberation, despite the fact that the “skull fracture” and brain bleeding were later dismissed as shadows on the x-rays. No one told the jury about the baby’s health history. The minimum sentence of 3.5 years was imposed.
The mother was distraught. “Looking back, we were so naive. We thought the truth would come out and we believed in the justice system.”
The mother started doing research and learned that her son had a condition shared by others in the family, gastroesophageal reflux. “Surely it shouldn’t take me to find these things out,” she said. “It should be the job of the police and the doctors.”
“This whole ordeal does literally drain the life out of you. ... I just wanted to lie down and take it, but then the anger kicked in and the more I researched it, the more I realized it was unfair.”
This case was one of 88 in England that were considered for review on the basis that flawed “expert” testimony had demonstrably resulted in several wrongful convictions. In the end, the courts reviewed only four cases and the results were mixed. The justices did not take a firm stand concerning which expert opinions were allowable and which were not. After those appeals, the court declined to review any more cases, including this one. The defendant served his time and was released, but his name was not cleared.
The baby’s mother spoke on several talk shows about their ordeal and continued her research. “The system has failed us and this has destroyed my faith in so many institutions,” she said. “We’ll always hold our heads up high but until someone recognizes that [he] is innocent, until the system changes to protect people like us, we’ll never be able to move on.”
A BBC Channel 4 documentary, “Who Killed My Baby?” followed this case.
0395: The 16-month-old baby had lived with his aunt and uncle and their five children in their trailer since he was 5 months old. There was testimony that the aunt resented his presence because it had caused the loss of Medicaid benefits for her own children. Other caretakers said he had bruises and that she repeatedly fed him tomatoes, despite the fact that he was allergic to them.
On the day in question, she was alone with the children, giving the boys a bath while the girls played outside. The girls heard a “big boom” and their mother ran from the trailer, screaming for help because the baby was not breathing. He was taken to the hospital and died two days later.
She gave various statements as to what happened. A CAT scan showed injuries consistent with shaken baby syndromes. There were also fractures.
She was accused of abuse and charged with felony murder, involuntary manslaughter, aggravated assault, aggravated battery, cruelty to children and reckless conduct. She was found guilty of all charges and sentenced to life in prison.
She appealed all the way to the state Supreme Court on the basis that the verdicts were mutually exclusive. Some said she intentionally harmed the child and others said she unintentionally harmed him.
The Supreme Court rejected the defense claim, saying they were based on jury findings that the same physical actions were both intentional and criminally negligent. They also rejected the claim that the trial court erred by allowing an employee of DFCS to testify that the baby’s injuries were consistent with shaken baby syndrome and that she had ineffective assistance of counsel. All the trial court’s judgments were unanimously affirmed.
0396: The baby was placed in foster care after his mother was hospitalized and his father was incarcerated. The foster mother, 35, admitted to police that she shook the boy and dropped him two days after he came under her care, four days before emergency workers were called because he stopped breathing. The defense argued that the injuries predated his arrival in foster care.
Doctors found healing rib fractures and subdural bleeding. The baby suffered long term injuries. He became blind, deaf and unable to speak. He requires 24-hour nursing care. A Family Court judge ordered him taken off life support. Doctors did not expect him to live but he did. He was placed in a new foster home.
Under police interrogation, she initially denied harming the child, then broke down in tears and explained that the baby had cried inconsolably. “I have never seen a child in my life cry like that,” she said. The detective pressed on. “If you be honest with me, I can help you out a lot,” he said. Finally, she told the police officer through tears that she had eventually “lost it” with the crying child and shaken him “real hard” then dropped him on the bedroom floor. “It wasn’t intentional. I didn’t mean to do it.” She was unaware she was being videotaped.
At the first trial, a mistrial was declared when lawyers were unable to find enough people to serve on the jury. Fifty of sixty asked to be excused after being given a brief description of the case.
At the second trial, attorneys were asked to curb discussion or statements that might bring the jury to tears. Potential jurors had already started crying when they learned of the subject matter during jury selection, he said. Doctors testified that the baby must have experienced some kind of injury or medical event shortly before he began choking. The confessed shaking four days prior could not have caused the injuries. “Something dramatic happened to stop his heart and stop his lungs,” one said. He it had to have happened minutes before the boy stopped breathing. Under cross-examination, he admitted it “might be possible but [was] highly unlikely” that the injuries had been inflicted while the child was still with his mother.
The foster mother was convicted after six hours of deliberation and sentenced to 4.5 years.
The defendant requested a reduction of sentence and it was appealed all the way to the state Supreme Court. They said that the defendant’s behavior was undeniably a tragic, single departure from the exemplary life she had lived before.
Her remorse during her confession, at trial, and at sentencing seemed sincere. When he sentenced her, said the Supreme Court, the trial judge was dealing with a first-offender and highly productive member of society who, in a reckless, split-second, committed a crime with permanent, devastating consequences. The Supreme Court agreed that “the sentence struck a balance between holding the defendant accountable and seeking justice.” It reduced her sentence by three months to allow her to be home before the next school year, saying “the more than three years she spent in prison, how she spent those years, and the desirability of reuniting her family, weighed against the only reason for keeping her in prison—retribution, the court is satisfied that Defendant’s serving the original sentence in its entirety is not in the interest of justice.”
0397: The father, 25, said he had put his 4-month-old daughter down to sleep at about 6:00 p.m. He fell asleep. When he awoke about four hours later, the baby was dead. He tried to resuscitate her and took her to a neighbor who called an ambulance.
She had been vaccinated 72 hours prior to her death with DTP, Hibtiter, hepatitis B and polio syrup and had a very bad reaction, including excessive drowsiness, projectile vomiting and diarrhea. She had not been interested in eating.
The father was accused of manslaughter.
The baby had a brain hemorrhage. The forensic pathologist said “the most likely cause in this case is shaking of the child.” Another doctor who testified said he was 99% sure it was shaken baby syndrome. Two doctors testified that the baby could have died from natural causes. One said she had an undiagnosed liver complaint that “was sitting like a time bomb below the surface.” Another doctor said the baby had not been 100% since it was born. It had been given antibiotics early in life. This was, he said, a severe adverse reaction to the vaccines.
A judge acquitted the defendant in a bench trial, saying the baby’s death could have been caused by other factors. He was convinced that perhaps the obvious answer (shaken baby syndrome) was not the right one, at least not beyond reasonable doubt. He wrote, “I did not form the view that either of those doctors was putting forth a fanciful untenable proposition. Perhaps putting the burden the correct way I am not satisfied that their evidence should be rejected as unreliable nor am I satisfied that their propositions are unreasonable.”
The case was covered on Australian TV.
0398: The baby’s aunt, 35, was accused of shaking him and throwing him on a bed. The medical examiner testified that the child died as a result of a “traumatic head injury” that was inflicted not accidental. The baby had bleeding on both sides of the brain, some old and some new. No ribs or arms were broken. Retinal bleeding was not found.
The police officer said the defendant, who wears a back brace, told him she threw the baby on the bed (approximately 6 feet) because she was in a hurry to use the restroom. At the trial, she said the police talked her into incriminating herself and she said what she did to keep police from casting suspicion on her daughters.
She was convicted of first degree reckless homicide and sentenced to 15 years.
In his closing argument, the defense attorney argued that investigators rushed to point the finger and coerced her into making a statement that didn’t make sense. “The confession doesn’t match up with the medical evidence,” he said. “That’s what happens when you work backwards. [The defendant] is not guilty of anything. The only thing she’s guilty of is being stupid and trying to protect her daughters by telling a bunch of lies.”
The prosecutor portrayed both the defendant and her medical expert as “charlatans”. The doctor, he said, was “a used car salesman with credentials” and the defendant “deserves an Oscar” for her tearful testimony. He defended the investigating police officers, saying they used “typical and expected police procedures” during the interrogation.
After the sentencing, a minor child told a counselor, and then others in the family, that she was responsible for the defendant being in jail. She said she got up in the middle of the night to get a snack and picked the baby up. As she was returning to her room, she tripped and the baby slipped. The baby’s head struck a bassinet.
A new defense attorney requested a new trial based on the new evidence. The request was denied. The judge said the new evidence failed to prove someone else could be responsible. The state Supreme Court ruled that detectives who kept her lawyer from seeing her during questioning may have manipulated her, but their actions don’t warrant discarding statements that helped convict her. Her attorney and husband were right outside the interrogation room. She was subjected to three hours of questioning before being told she would spend the night in jail and couldn’t call anyone.
0399: The baby sitter had been caring for children for nine years. One day, a baby came in at 6:00 very sleepy. The mother said she had given him Dimetapp to relieve his congestion. The baby had had his third blood transfusion the week before and he was congested. The sitter had been under the impression he was only to be given Robitussin and saline drops.
The sitter put the baby down and since everybody in the house was asleep, she fell asleep, too. The baby didn’t wake up until about 9:50 a.m. The sitter picked him up from the swing and tried to feed him his bottle, but he wouldn’t take it. At 10:05 the baby stopped breathing. She called 911 and began to give him CPR.
At 6:45 that evening, police and child protection arrived with a search warrant. They took the sitter into custody, saying the baby had been shaken. She was interrogated for 82 minutes. After the baby died, she was charged with murder. The parents subsequently filed a suit for wrongful death.
While waiting for the trial, the sitter had a miscarriage of her twins. She said the stress was part of the cause.
The trial lasted 14 business days. The judge kept urging speed because she had other cases. The prosecutor demonstrated with a doll how she supposedly beat the child again and again on the floor. There were no bruises, marks or scars. Doctors’ testimony on when the injuries happened were inconsistent. The sitter was found guilty and sentenced to two life sentences.
The sitter said she does not know what caused the baby’s death, but she knows she did not murder him. She wants the truth to come out.
“I have not lost my faith in God and I can still hold my head up because I know I am a loving person and I am innocent,” she said.
A year after the trial, a judge ruled that the defendant’s original lawyer failed to present sufficient medical evidence to the jury and ordered a new trial. Prosecutors appealed to the state Supreme Court and lost. Her current attorneys and defense medical experts say the baby had sickle cell anemia, which could manifest the same symptoms as shaken baby syndrome.
At retrial, a jury acquitted her. Although she had been out on bond pending exhaustion of appeals, she spent over a year in prison before being cleared.
0400: The baby had been born prematurely by forceps delivery and after his birth had a large hematoma with severe bruising on the side of his head. When he was six months old, he fell down a flight of stairs, landing on his head. He did not appear to be injured but at a medical checkup shortly thereafter, concern was noted about the rapid growth and shape of his head.
Not long after the checkup, there was another fall, followed by serious vomiting. Doctors said the baby appeared to be fine. A subsequent CT scan ordered by the pediatrician revealed a bleed on the brain. Retinal bleeding was also found. The parents were accused of shaking the baby.
The baby was hospitalized at the age of seven months, after he began having seizures. CFYS was notified and the baby was removed from the home and placed with grandparents. The parents were not charged with a crime because there were no other signs of abuse.
An MRI was performed, and it showed a possibility that the baby had a rare disorder that would make him more vulnerable than most children to head injuries, benign external hydrocephalus (water on the brain). An overseas expert confirmed that the baby had a bleeding disorder.
CFYS held fast to its view that the parents had shaken the child, based on the fact that in their view, the symptoms pointed only to shaken baby syndrome.
It was notable that the Family Court conducted a mediation in this New Zealand case rather than rendering a unilateral order. Although CFYS predicted that the boy would have learning difficulties, especially in math, he is doing very well in school and math is his best subject.
Go on to read Cases 401 - 444
Source: www.SusanCAnthony.com, ©Susan C. Anthony