Buried among the stories of accused parents, boyfriends, and babysitters, for example, was an Ohio judge’s decision late last month to drop charges against a teenage father, with the comment, “I think this case is full of doubt, frankly.” The move seems to have been popular in the community, as reflected in both the article and reader comments in the Newark Advocate.
More disturbingly in Florida, the trial of a well-known child-care provider is now wrapping up, after unexpected testimony from Dr. John Thogmartin, medical examiner for Pinelles and Pasco Counties. Thogmartin was interviewed in last summer’s Frontline episode about faulty science in infant death prosecutions. In the video, Thogmartin said he was skeptical of shaken baby syndrome, as he’d never really seen a case of it. Consistent with that position, he’s reported to have testified in this case that the child died of blunt head trauma, not shaking… but apparently he does accept immediate symptoms, because he is testifying for the prosecution. Thogmartin was called back to the stand to address the defense theory that the child had been injured before arriving at the care-provider’s house, but it’s not clear to me from the Tampa Bay Times coverage either what he said or what he meant.
Just in the past few days, a young father in Arkansas has been arrested in what the news account called “a classic case of shaken baby syndrome.” The diagnosing physicians seem not to have been swayed by the infant’s's fragile health: According to the Press-Argus coverage, 3-month-old Jayden Wright, who quit breathing in the care of his father on January 10, had weighed three pounds at birth on October 15, weeks short of his December 2 due date.
The same day’s news search brought up the sentencing of an Oklahoma father, who looks totally miserable in the photo that accompanies the story in the Oklahoman. He received a sentence of life in prison, making him eligible for parole in a little more than 38 years. His defense attorney had argued, unsuccessfully, that the man’s 5-month-old daughter had been injured in a fall a few days earlier, and had not been shaken by her father.
Meanwhile, in Raleigh, North Carolina, another father has been arrested in the presumed shaking death of his 5-month-old son. It’s not clear from the press reports why only the father is being targeted, since the couple seemed to be together when the breathing problems were discovered, first thing in the morning.
And there are dozens more. My heart breaks, for the children and for their families.
copyright 2012, Sue Luttner
If you are unfamiliar with the debate surrounding shaken baby syndrome in the courtroom, please see the home page of this blog.