Surviving Justice

IMG_4464Among the stream of new accusations and disappointing appeals comes an encouraging piece of news:  A Vermont jury has found 29-year-old Russ Van Vleck innocent of manslaughter in the 2009 death of his 5-week-old son Colin.

The press reports are already archived, so I’ll have to summarize here from the Bennington Banner and Manchester Journal coverage:

Van Vleck called 911 at about 10 pm on October 2, 2009, for help with his son Colin, who he said had stopped breathing while lying next to him on the couch. Van Vleck attempted CPR while waiting for the ambulance, following the instructions of the operator. He later told police the technique was different from what he’d learned in the National Guard. “I felt like I ate up 10 minutes of his life by not being able to do the CPR right for him,” Van Vleck said in a taped interview played at his trial, “I just wanted to get him to somebody who knew what they were doing.”

Colin had no bruises, fractures, or other signs of battering, and he’d been sick in the days before the incident—the doctor had diagnosed flu. Colin’s birth five weeks earlier had been complicated by a prematurely fused skull suture, a congenital defect that gave his head an odd shape. Still, State Medical Examiner Steven Shapiro, who performed the autopsy,  and his colleague at the ME’s office, neuropathologist Elizabeth Bundock, testified that the boy’s death could only have been caused by abusive shaking shortly before he stopped breathing. In opening remarks at the trial, Deputy State’s Attorney Christina Rainville was quoted:

“The evidence is going to show that Russ caused Colin’s death in a moment’s rage, a moment’s loss of control, and that Colin died of massive internal injuries consistent with being violently shaken, or being thrown into a soft object like a couch, a crib mattress, a bassinet, or a padded chair.”

Van Vleck enjoyed the support of friends and family throughout the 2-year ordeal. Attorneys William D. Wright and Joyce Brenner brought in neurosurgeon Ron Uscinski—a veteran of the Louise Woodward trial—and two Florida pathologists, who argued that the combination of birth trauma and skull defect had spawned the deadly bleeding and swelling.

The jury found Van Vleck innocent, but supporters report that social services has now targeted him as an abuse threat: He is allowed only supervised contact with his baby daughter, born in March of this year.

And of course he and his family are left with the cost of the defense and their new, notorious status in a community exposed to years of news coverage that assumed the father was guilty. Van Vleck’s National Guard deployment was delayed in 2009 because of his son’s death—I’ve seen no word yet on whether he will be heading out now.

The good news is that Van Vleck was able to fight the charges, with the support of his family and friends and help from a few doctors willing to weather the scorn that comes with testifying for the defense in a child abuse case. My next posting will tell a different, more common story.

March 2012.  More good news:  The State of Vermont has dropped family court proceedings against the Van Vleck family.

If you are not familiar with the debate surrounding the diagnosis of shaken baby syndrome, please see the home page of this site, at http://onsbs.com/

-Sue Luttner

10 Comments

Filed under abusive head trauma, shaken baby syndrome

10 responses to “Surviving Justice

  1. Jerome

    Great follow-up on the family situation. Perhaps you could help revive any tarnished reputations here.

  2. Innocent Daddy

    It is a very good day when you can hear the story of a fellow falsely accused father. I am currently being tortured for a crime of the same circumstances that I am also innocent of. But in coming from a small town I have been found guilty by the closed minded population that surround me. My son was also ill all of his short life, beginning from the day he was born. His pediatrician treated him 4 times for illnesses he didn’t have with a medication that was NOT to be administered to a child under the age of 6th months…my son was only 5 months old whenhepassed away. And of course because he passed while I was the one caring for him I have been charged

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  5. 1923 or 2011?

    Sadly, Russ Van Vleck is still the target of unwarranted harrassment and unethical behaviors of the prosecutors in this case……

    At the end of the trial, Christine Rainville was asked if she had any questions of the jury. She said no. However, the prosecution has taken it upon themselves to contact jury members after trial and ask them to meet with them. Is this legal? As a jury member I would feel that my privacy was completely violated. In addition, two of the states witnesses (the state’s medical examiner- shapiro and a dr. bundoch) were impeached for perjuring themselves during the trial (one lie was told by Bundoch about something she did in front of the jury- a little difficult to lie about something you did in front of the people in the room, she left the court room in tears – to wish prosecutions Rainville said “well she doesn’t speak English”). Unfortunately, it is the responsibility of the prosecution to press perjury charges against them, which they have not done. This entire case was fabricated and tailored by the state’s medical experts and prosection to make a case that they could just “win” rather than seeking justice. Should they have been seeking justice they would have pressed perjury charges and been appauled that they were fooled into believing falsified medical interpretations and faulty medical work (for example, Dr. Shapiro got bile on Colin’s brain during the autopsy). Another example, the State’s medical examiner admitted to causing bleeding on the neck of Colin, and EVEN IN HIS REVISED autopsy he states it was part of the cause of death. In addition, Colin’s brain weighed over 500 grams when he passed away (AND, Dr. Shapiro admitted he didn’t even weight the brain whole, he only weighed a part of it). In addition, Rainville states in her closing arguments that Colin had a detached retina. Colin did not have a detached retina. The retina was cut by Dr. Shapiro- another admission. In reading the transcripts of this trial, the inconsistencies of the prosecution and medical experts is appauling. And, the state continues to harrass Russ Van Vleck. They are now putting him on trial in family court. But this seems to be in line with Erica Marthag’es MO- which also included telling Bennington Banner reporters that Russ Van Vleck was a “murderer” even before they falsely charged him with a crime. Marthage tried to use the papers (in a VERY SMALL STATE) to win her case and build something false.

    On a closing ironic note, Rainville threatened her neighbors children with a (I believe it was a hockey stick) and when a report was filed against her, low and behold Marthage made it disappear.

    It is time for Bennington County and the State of Vermont to DEMAND educated and BEST PRACTICE medical professionals in the State Medical Examiners Office and EDUCATED and JUSTICE ORIENTED (DO THE RIGHT THING) legal professionals in Bennington County. In the words of one of the medical experts Van Vleck relied on to find out how and why his son died in response to why craniosyntosis deaths aren’t widespread and documented- “No one (referring to doctors who took care of Colin over 4 times the week he passed away) screws up like this” An expert who has never testified on behalf of the defense before. I leave the state of Vermont with this quote- “This would have never happened in X (named a state)”.

    I have also heard first hand from personnel in Shapiro’s office the following:
    “Not suprised about this, he is very cavalier”
    “He used to make a diagnosis and force us to find the causes to support his theories”
    “It wasn’t as bad until he became the ME, the old ME used to keep him under control”

    I truly hope no other family has to endure the sloppy and poor care that Dr. Shapiro gave to Colin. I also truly hope that no one becomes the subject of Bennington County’s unethical law practices. Sadly, there is not enough room to explain all of the lies, inconsistencies, and poor medical practices that occurred during the course of this trial. The only word that describes their behavior is inhuman- these people are the saddest leaders and professionals I have ever seen in their industry.

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  7. Ina's mom

    Our case, which occurred just down the road and within weeks of the Van Vlecks’, shared so many similarities with it that people in the community were constantly getting us confused. And when Lindsey and I gave birth to our second children within a couple weeks of one another at the same hospital, we became targets of the same dishonest, good-for-no one activist prosecutor.

    As it happens, our family court cases were dismissed on the same day by that prosecutor, just as our children were turning one year old.

    Nothing can erase the pain of the past two years. Sitting in a courtroom and reliving the death of your child, while your husband sits accused of causing her (and his) death, is not something that can be easily forgotten. The hateful comments from strangers, the accusations that call into question your skills and fitness as a mother, the slight disdain you feel from acquaintances who pretend to be nice to you…none of this can be erased with the stroke of a pen. In fact, an acquittal or dismissal means very little even to our husbands, other than the freedom to sit home and soak in their hatred in the comfort of our own pajamas.

    I wish the best for Russ and Lindsey and their entire families. But I am not naive enough to believe that their lives have begun again. You see, by now they have realized that they still have to grieve for their son. They could not do this while Russ stood accused, while Lindsey struggled to hold on to her new child, while all eyes were upon them watching, waiting for the mistake that would give the people what they wanted: scandal.

    We are members of a very special club. Even though we never chose to be members, we’ll be paying dues every day for the rest of our lives.

    • Thank you for posting. Please accept my condolences on your ordeal. I’m so sorry you’ve been drawn into this arena, but I appreciate your joining us in speaking out against the injustice. Best wishes.

    • And I forgot to mention, what an eloquent statement. I have to believe that the doctors and prosecutors really have no idea how much pain they are causing.

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