Category Archives: AHT

My Visit to the Ivory Tower

a&cRuinsThe on-line journal Argument & Critique has published my review of the shaken baby syndrome literature, after an editorial exchange that has increased my appreciation for both the role of academia in the SBS/AHT debate and the value of The National Registry of Exonerations.

The journal’s managing editor, Dr. Lynne Wrennall at Liverpool John Moores University, approached me some months ago, after reviewing this web site and blog, to see if I wanted to submit a paper on shaken baby syndrome. After 17 years of tracking the evolving research, I was eager for the chance to pull the key papers and cases into the historical narrative. My own education came in the footnotes.

aspelin

Charges were eventually dropped against Kristian Aspelin, who said the family dog had knocked him over while he was holding his infant son.

My citations to the medical literature were fine, but it turns out that the golden links for a blogger—the in-depth articles on individual cases from news outlets that post their archives on line—are forbidden to the academic researcher. I was allowed to cite the opinion of a New York Times reporter about British sentiment toward Louise Woodward but not, for example, the Philadelphia Inquirer’s treatment of the Baby Lucas case, in which doctors misdiagnosed a vitamin K deficiency as shaking injury. I thought my essay would be more potent if I could name some of the conditions that have been misdiagnosed as abuse, but my examples were all excised because the citations were deemed unreliable—which is a sound policy, when I think about how inaccurate the popular press can be.

nationalRegistryNow I realize I could have saved us all a lot of trouble if I had just gone first to The National Registry of Exonerations, a joint effort of the innocence projects at the Michigan and Northwestern University law schools, a reputable source that offers a sobering list of overturned shaking convictions, with case histories. The registry documents a number of conditions that have been misdiagnosed as abusive head trauma:

Some cases were overturned because they rested on timing:

The registry now contains 1,388 exonerations, a number that’s likely to change soon, as the last entry seems to have been added yesterday, July 2, which I know because their case browser offers a handy sorting tool that also helped me find the cases above.

Richard Britts and his daughters -courtesy of Richard Britts

Richard Britts and his daughters
-courtesy of Richard Britts

What this database doesn’t include are the dropped charges, as in the cases of Tammy Fourman and Kristian Aspelin; the not guilty verdicts, as in the cases of Richard Britts and Russell Van Vleck; or the many innocent people who either remain in prison or have served their terms. Still, it’s a valuable resource and a solid record of shaken baby syndrome in the courtroom, a record that’s respected in academia.

The journal that published my paper takes a libertarian perspective and “aims to stimulate debate and critical thinking around controversial topics.” I was encouraged to know that its editor, a U.K. social science professor, researcher, and government policy advisor, is not only aware of the SBS debate but eager to push it forward. I got a hint of why she is also a popular media figure when she offered this perspective on the criticism she hopes for in response to the shaken baby paper:

As you know the history of SBS, you know that it can get pretty stormy, but I make it a point of honour not to give in. I go by the edicts, ‘let the light in’, and make sure that you are never the only person to know something.

In that spirit, thank you for reading my blog.        -Sue

copyright 2014, Sue Luttner

If you are not familiar with the debate surrounding shaken baby syndrome, please see the home page of this blog site.

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Filed under abusive head trauma, AHT, SBS, shaken baby syndrome

Jury Finds Adrian Thomas Not Guilty

adrianThomasThe retrial of convicted father Adrian Thomas produced a not guilty verdict today, a decision reached by jurors who did not learn about the 9-hour interrogation examined in the award-winning 2012 film Scenes of a Crime or hear testimony from the detectives who conducted it. Thomas’s initial conviction in 2010 for the presumed shaking death of his 4-month-old son was overturned in February, when an appeals court determined that the interrogators’ heavy-handed tactics made the resulting confession inadmissible.

At both trials, defense experts argued that Matthew had died of sepsis, a full-body infection that leads to rapid collapse through tissue failure. The sepsis diagnosis was  confirmed by blood tests ordered by forensic pathologist Jan Leestma, hired by the defense team. The state pathologist had not mentioned the sepsis in his autopsy report, although he did not deny it after Leestma brought it to his attention.

AdrianThomasStandsMatthew had no bruising, no red marks, and no fractures. His first blood test when he was rushed the hospital had came back positive for streptococcus pneumoniae. He had also arrived at the hospital with a temperature of 97.2 F, which dropped 3 degrees over the next half hour. His mother had reported a fever of 100.4 F the previous day, a figure that was dismissed as “not high” by prosecution expert Dr. Carole Jenny, who insisted that the sepsis infection was secondary to inflicted head trauma.

Coverage by reporter Bob Gardner at the Times Union offered this quote from the prosecution after the verdict:

“After the Court of Appeals threw out the his statements of guilt, we did the best we could with what we had left,” said Assistant District Attorney Christa Book. “I’m sorry that I could not bring Matthew justice.”

For a summary of the interrogation and a review of the film, please see this blog posting.

For the opinion vacating Thomas’s initial conviction, follow this link.

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Filed under abusive head trauma, AHT, coerced confessions, Falsely accused, parents accused, SBS, shaken baby syndrome

Short Falls, Long Sentences

The innocent verdict in Yolo County last month has me reflecting on a few of the people I know who are in prison on the basis of medical opinion that (1) short pediatric falls are seldom if ever fatal and (2) the symptoms of a serious infant head injury will be immediately obvious.

Because the doctors are so sure, police and social services move ahead with confidence, and juries tend to convict. Tragically and exasperatingly, the legal outcomes then seem to support the common knowledge, which remains a matter of opinion, not proven fact.

Rico Green

Rico Green


Rico Green

Rico Green in Oklahoma, for example, is serving a life sentence following the 2010 death of his girl friend’s toddler, 13-month-old Gericho. “Anybody that knows Rico knows that’s not him,” says Antoine Hubbard, a family friend who has pulled together the case records, hoping to file an appeal. “Rico’s a gentle guy. He’d never do something like that.”

gericho

Gericho 2010

Gericho’s mother had just started a new job and Rico was watching Gericho, as he often did. He called 911 mid-day, with a report that the boy was unconscious after falling down a few steps—but at the hospital, doctors said a short fall couldn’t account for the injuries.

During extensive police interviews, Rico reported an incident earlier that morning when he had “snatched up” Gericho and scolded him, when the boy had grabbed the toilet plunger after his bath and pretended he was going to bite it, a game he’d learned was provocative. In the videotaped portion of the interrogation, the final half hour, the detectives do most of the talking, insisting that Rico, enraged, shook the boy at that time.

Rico shows a remarkably even temper on camera, seemingly more puzzled than angry as the detectives refuse to accept the story he repeats again and again: What he feels bad about is yelling at Gericho and making him cry.  “I know he’s a one-year-old,” Rico explains, “He probably doesn’t understand.” The detectives keep at it, though, until Rico finally seems to accept their theory that he was so angry during the plunger incident he didn’t realize how hard he had shaken the boy when he grabbed him. What sounded like a confession to them looked to me like acquiescence, and not the behavior of a man prone to violent outbursts.

Rico’s trial lasted three days and featured 13 prosecution witnesses. The public defender called no witnesses on his behalf, and the jury convicted Rico of murder in the first degree. Antoine Hubbard is now looking for pro bono legal help.

Jeff and Gracelynn Baker, 2010

Jeff and Gracelynn Baker, 2010


Jeff Baker

In Idaho, mature father Jeff Baker is serving a life sentence for the death of his daughter Gracelynn, not quite three months old the afternoon in 2010 when her father found her struggling to breathe shortly after he’d fed her. The babysitter who had been caring for the girl earlier in the day later told police she had accidentally dropped the baby into a sink while bathing her, but Baker was convicted of murder, in what doctors testified was both a shaking and a slamming assault.

Pediatric neuroradiologist Dr. Patrick Barnes, called in by the defense, noted that Gracelynn’s breathing tube was misplaced in two of the scans he reviewed. Baker, who has written his own appeal from prison, sent me excerpts from the medical records showing the catastrophic drop in his daughter’s blood-oxygen levels that night, and the “reintubation” procedure the following morning. The state has appointed an attorney to represent Baker at the upcoming hearing on his appeal.

Tiffani Calise

Tiffani Calise


Tiffani Calise

Tiffani Calise was only 19 years old the night she called 911 for help with a toddler who she said had slipped and fallen in the bathtub. She was arrested two weeks later, in August of 2010, and she hasn’t been out of custody since. She is now missing her own daughter’s childhood while serving a sentence of 15 years to life for the presumed murder of her friend’s child. Her first appeal was turned down, but supporters are working on another.

Leo Ackley's Facebook profile shot not long before the accusations

Leo Ackley with Baylee — His Facebook profile shot not long before the accusations


Leo Ackley

Last year’s successful appeal on behalf of Leo Ackley turned to disappointment this spring, when the Michigan Court of Appeals  reversed that decision, calling it “clear error.”

At issue was whether trial counsel Kenneth Marks provided ineffective assistance in 2012 by failing to look for a different expert witness after the first pathologist he approached, Dr. Brian Hunter, told him he believed 3-year-old Baylee’s injuries were caused by abuse, not the fall from a bed that Ackley had reported. In hearings last summer, Hunter testified that he told Marks the issue was controversial, and he suggested other pathologists who believed a short fall could be fatal. He did not charge for the initial consultation.

Marks concedes that he did not contact either of the experts Hunter had suggested, but chose to spend the $1,500 he’d been granted to hire Hunter, not as an expert witness but as a trial consultant, preparing him to cross examine the state’s pathologist. All parties seem to agree that Marks successfully forced Dr. Joyce deJong to admit on the stand that doctors did not know what level of force was necessary to cause the brain injury that killed Baylee. Still, Ackley was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison.

kaylee

Baylee

Appeal attorney Andrew Rodenhouse argued that because the case hinged on expert medical opinion, a reasonable defense required a physician on the stand to support Ackley’s claim of innocence. Marks should have contacted one of the suggested experts, Rodenhouse said, petitioning the court for more funds if necessary, or he could have at least subpoenaed the little girl’s pediatrician, who had noted at a check-up that Baylee was doing better with the mother’s new boyfriend in her life. In the fall of 2013, Chief Circuit Judge James C. Kingsley agreed and set aside Ackley’s conviction.

In an opinion released in April, though, a new panel of judges concluded:

“[Marks'] decision not to consult a second expert constituted trial strategy. Defense counsel is not required to continue seeking experts until he finds one who will offer favorable testimony.”

Rodenhouse says he is entirely committed to both Ackley’s case and the larger fight against misguided accusations of infant shaking. He points to the re-opening of the Adrian Thomas conviction in New York and last week’s remarkable reversal by a Minnesota trial judge of a jury decision and declares, “There is a momentum. We’ve got to keep it going.”

Sean O’Geary

Sean O'Geary

Sean O’Geary

The Innocence Project of Iowa, meanwhile, has confirmed that it’s examining the case of Sean O’Geary, in prison since 1998 in the death of his girl friend’s 2-year-old daughter Mercedes.

The girl’s grandmother had dropped her off on Friday afternoon with a report that she’d had the flu for a couple of days. Both Sean and his girl friend said Mercedes fell onto the coffee table the next day, while jumping on the couch, and both of them reported hearing a loud thump later that night, after everyone was in bed. It was Sean who went to check on her, though, and so it was Sean who was accused of shaking and slamming her to death. He said he found her climbing back into her crib, and she seemed fine at the time, but on Sunday evening she was rushed to the hospital with convulsions.

giovo

Michael Giovo Jr. with Skyler


Michael Giovo Jr.

Without realizing it,  Michael Giovo Jr. offered investigators one of the leading stories that child abuse professionals are trained to doubt:  A fall from a couch.

Michael said he had stayed up watching television on Thanksgiving night in 2008, after his girl friend had gone to bed. When he heard 4-month-old Skyler crying, he picked him up from his crib and settled him on the couch while heating a bottle. Michael did not witness the fall, he said, but heard a cry and returned to find Skyler on the floor. The boy seemed to recover and spent the night in bed with him, Michael reported, but he and his girl friend rushed the boy to the hospital the next day, when he started twitching. Giovo is now serving life in prison.

Reporter Jonathan Able at the Tampa Bay Times said that Michael had no idea during hours of police questioning that he was accused of assaulting his son:

He said he went along with the interview voluntarily because police said he was not a suspect. “If I knew they were going to make me a suspect I would have asked for a lawyer right then.”

Atlanta, Georgia, September 2010

Atlanta, Georgia, September 2010, at the NCSBS conference

The 2010 conference sponsored by the National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome featured a mock trial in which a babysitter reported an unwitnessed fall from a bed, a distance of 36 inches, possibly with an impact against a wooden stool. The imaginary infant had both new and old fractures, as well as acute subdural hematoma, retinal hemorrhages, and brain swelling. On the mock stand, the prosecution doctors all agreed that a short fall would not account for the injuries, and that the child had been violently assaulted after she was dropped off at the babysitter’s, the last point at which she was observed to be alert, eating, and playing.

Hundreds of doctors attended that conference and returned to their hospitals with a clear message: Short falls don’t kill. The problem is that it’s a question of faith, not a question of scientific fact. Despite the common knowledge, biomechanical research has shown that short falls can produce large forces. In a report submitted on behalf of death-row inmate Jeffrey Havard in the fall of 2013, for example, biomechanical engineer Prof. Chris Van Ee wrote, “it is clear that low level falls of even 2-3 feet can result in injurious level head impacts resulting in skull fracture and intracranial hemorrhage.”

I wish the doctors who rely so readily on the common knowledge, and the police and social workers who leap into action at the word of the doctors, would slow down and listen to the defendants more carefully. I think there is still a lot to learn.

If you are not familiar with the debate surrounding shaken baby syndrome, please see the home page of this blog.

For more stories of caregivers and parents convicted in short-fall cases, please see http://www.marshamills.org/thestory.aspx,  http://brianpeixoto.com/,http://www.freeamandabrumfield.com/, and http://www.theamandatruthproject.com/heartofthematter.htm, and these are only the ones with web sites.

copyright 2014, Sue Luttner

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Filed under abusive head trauma, AHT, Falsely accused, parents accused, SBS, shaken baby syndrome

A Yolo County Jury Believes the Father

SamStone

Sam Stone, 2012

A jury in Yolo County, California, has found 40-year-old Quentin Stone not guilty of child endangerment and abuse, in a case that highlights the limitations of the common knowledge about both the potential danger of short falls and the timing of symptoms following infant head injury.

The story begins in early September of 2012, when Stone brought his son Sam, then two months old, to the Kaiser clinic with a report that the boy had fallen from a bed onto a hardwood floor. Sam showed no symptoms at the time, and doctors found nothing alarming during their examination. The boy was brought in again the next day with a report of projectile vomiting, and again he was examined and sent home. A series of emails and another in-person visit document his parents’ ongoing concern with Sam’s continued vomiting and episodes of “breath holding” over the following days and weeks.

Sam Stone had both a twin and an older brother.

Sam Stone had both a twin and an older brother.

Then on October 3, Sam collapsed and his father rushed the unconscious boy to the hospital, where scans revealed both fresh and chronic subdural hematomas.  Doctors diagnosed Sam as the victim of abusive head trauma. According to trial coverage by Sarah Dowling at the Democrat News, prosecutor Steven Mount dismissed Stone’s claim that his son had fallen off a bed in September:

Mount said except for Stone’s testimony, there is no evidence that a fall even happened. Instead, Stone could have gotten angry with the child or simply wanted to stop him from crying. Regardless of the motivation, Mount said that Stone could have shaken the child, coming up with the “fall story” to cover it up.

Stone had said he wasn’t in the room when the boy fell. He had left Sam in the middle of a king-sized bed and gone briefly out to the garage. When he returned, Sam was on the floor. Sam’s twin brother Henry was asleep in a swing, but Stone thought their other son Jack, two-and-a-half at the time, might have pulled the boy off the bed.

Public defender Monica Brushia said she was sure from the beginning that her client was innocent. “Just reading the police report, I knew the doctors had misdiagnosed Sam, which led to his death… This was a very difficult and emotional case.” Both she and co-counsel Martha Sequeira cried real tears while preparing for trial, Brushia reports, and again when the verdict was read.

Brushia shared a Facebook posting from one of the jurors, whose account of the trial included this paragraph:

Today, an innocent man was set free of blame and accusation of the death of his son. Mr Stone didn’t abuse his child, he did everything he could do to save him. The sad fact is Dr’s make mistakes, sometimes they miss things, sometimes they are wrong. The death of this child really was at the hands of 2 Kaiser Dr’s, who went against what another Kaiser specialist had warned.

OnTheCouchMr. Stone is now trying to regain custody of his surviving sons, with whom he is allowed only weekly supervised visits.

The prosecution relied on expert testimony from Dr. Kevin Coulter, pediatrics division chief at the University of California, Davis, Medical Center, and forensic pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu, also on the UCD Medical Center faculty and chief medical examiner of San Joaquin County. The defense called forensic pathologist Dr. John Plunkett, pediatric neuroradiologist Dr. Pat Barnes, and ER physician Dr. Steven Gabaeff.

Dr. Plunkett’s report included a few paragraphs that might be educational for anyone working on one of these cases. On the subject of chronic subdural hematoma, for example, Plunkett wrote:

Sam had a large chronic SDH and a small acute left-sided SDH when Woodland and Davis’ personnel evaluated him. A chronic SDH, sometimes referred to as an hygroma, must begin either as an acute SDH or as an intradural effusion. A predominance of blood or blood products typifies a hematoma. A high protein-content fluid with medical imaging signal features similar to cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) characterizes an effusion. It is often not possible (clinically or radiographically) to determine whether a chronic SDH began as intradural bleeding or as an effusion. If the chronic SDH started as acute bleeding, the acute SDH may be large and require surgical evacuation, may resolve and heal with no apparent signs and symptoms, or may become “chronic”. If the acute hematoma does not resolve, it develops a membrane that is extremely fragile and has many new, immature blood vessels. These blood vessels may rupture, causing “new” bleeding and an increase in the size of the initial SDH. There have been a number of studies to determine why some acute hematomas become chronic. The best explanation appears to be that the unique characteristics of the clotting system in the hematoma itself allow the bleeding to persist rather than to heal. The Medical Imaging literature has documented this phenomenon in studies following hospitalized SDH patients with serial CT and MR scans, which show new bleeding in established hematomas in the absence of trauma. “New” trauma is not required for this progression.

And regarding the origin of subdural bleeds, which can be caused by impact but also by a number of non-traumatic circumstances:

Impact may cause dural compartment bleeding in an infant. The infant skull is not rigid, and may deform significantly during an impact, even without fracture. This deformation, or inbending, distorts the underlying brain, and may stretch the bridging veins, may physically alter the dural venous plexuses, and/or may activate the trigeminal (“V”) cranial nerve. If these changes exceed the tensile failure threshold for the veins or the plexuses, they rupture and bleed into the dural border cell layer (“the subdural space”). If the rupture involves relatively large vessels, the bleeding may be significant and lead to rapid compromise of brain function and death, even with timely and appropriate surgical intervention. Alternatively, the bleeding may be relatively slow and even asymptomatic for a considerable time, and only lead to clinical signs if there is an increase in head circumference or an increase in intracranial pressure, the latter triggering vomiting, seizures, and/or compromise of respiratory function. The impact may be apparently innocuous and extremely low velocity. Scientific studies using adult human volunteers (scaled to the infant), cadavers, non-human primates, and other experimental animals; accident reconstruction; computer modeling; and finite element analysis have established and validated infant human brain injury g and Head Injury Criterion (HIC) thresholds. The current federal head-injury standard for a 6-month-old infant represented by the CRABI-6 dummy is a Head Injury Criterion threshold of 390 and a peak g threshold of 50 (50 times the acceleration due to gravity). The researchers have not established thresholds for a 3-month-old infant. However, they are lower than for a 6-month-old infant. A simple headfirst impact to a non- yielding surface from as little as a two-foot fall will usually exceed these thresholds. Fatal impact head injury in an infant does not require a motor vehicle accident or a fall from a two- story building.

These thresholds imply an “all” (risk of severe injury or death) or “none” (no risk of severe injury or death) event. However, biological systems including human beings are seldom “all” or “none”. Further, underlying conditions such as an abnormality of the blood coagulation system, individual cerebral vascular anatomy, cerebral atrophy or increased extra-axial fluid, and an individual’s unique metabolic pathways may alter the threshold and outcome for impact trauma.

Sam had a history of a significant impact event, but I will discuss briefly non-impact causes of dural bleeding for completeness. I do not think that any of these conditions caused or contributed to Sam’s initial acute bleeding with the possible exception of birth or an increase in extra-axial subarachnoid space (so-called “benign” expansion of the subarachnoid space, or BESS).

A number of “natural diseases” and metabolic abnormalities predispose to, or are associated with, SDH. However, anatomical research suggests that damage to the dural venous plexuses rather than traumatic stretching of the bridging veins causes the SDH in these cases. Examples include but are not limited to:

  • The birth process itself, including C-section delivery;
  • Lumbar puncture resulting in intracranial hypotension;
  • A variety of infections caused by bacteria and viruses;
  • Breakthrough bleeding associated with cortical venous thrombosis (CVT), or sagittal sinus thrombosis (SST) or other large-sinus thrombosis;
  • Inborn errors of metabolism such as glutaric aciduria and Menkes Disease;
  • Inherited or acquired coagulation abnormalities, such as hypofibrinogenemia, Vitamin K deficiency, or thrombocytosis;
  • Structural abnormities such as an arachnoid cyst, increased extra-axial fluid, or subdural hygromas;
  • V ascular malformations such as, but not limited to, A V malformations;
  • Poorly understood inflammatory processes such as hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis and post-vaccination reactions; and
  • Spontaneous, in which the bleeding develops with no recognizable cause.
Finally, hypoxia or anoxia may cause subdural hemorrhage either as a primary or as a secondary event. For example, hypoxic damage to the dural venous plexuses rather than mechanical trauma is the most likely cause for intradural hemorrhage that may lead to subdural hemorrhage when hypoxia is associated with an increase in intracranial pressure.

 

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Journey With “Justice”: A Rough Road

journey

Dan Schrock, the author of Journey With “Justice”: Our Family’s Experience With “Shaken Baby” Allegations, is a gentler spirit in person than he is on the printed page. He has even found a message of hope in his daughter’s conviction for an infant shaking he is sure never happened.

“The temptation is to say ‘the police did this’ and ‘the prosecutor did that,'” he concedes, “But behind all this is a society that loves children and is willing to do anything to protect them.” Even the investigators who amplified his family’s pain by lying to potential witnesses, he argues, were only trying to hold someone accountable for his granddaughter’s catastrophic collapse.

Natalia Benson was three months old in July, 2005, the morning she wakened her mother, Barb Schrock, at 3 am with a high-pitched scream, followed by breathing problems and a call to 911. Within two days, Natalia had become a ward of the state, diagnosed as a shaken baby, and Barb was the only suspect.

Barbara Schrock, 2011

Barbara Schrock in prison, 2011

Like so many infants in these circumstances, Natalia came into the world in fragile health. She weighed 3 pounds 11 ounces at birth, after a labor induced at 34 weeks due to her mother’s soaring blood pressure. She spent her first three weeks of life in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, and she still weighed only 6 pounds when 3 months old. Barb had called the doctor’s office the previous day, concerned that the baby seemed not herself, and had made an appointment for that morning, a few hours after the girl’s collapse. A month earlier, she had taken Natalia to an after-hours clinic because her breathing didn’t seem right:  At that time the infant was diagnosed with a sinus infection and put on antibiotics.

Despite Natalia’s complex medical history and lack of bruising or abrasions, the pattern of bleeding and swelling found inside her skull convinced the doctors that the girl had been shaken. Oddly enough, the doctors also agreed that she had suffered a more serious brain injury weeks earlier, although that didn’t seem to interfere with the assumption that she had been violently assaulted immediately before her collapse.

DSC02771Dan Schrock’s main achievement in Journey is his careful tracking of the evolving case against his daughter:  Early in the story, he transcribes the initial police interviews with family members, and he carries his thorough knowledge of these transcripts through the narration. His book illustrates clearly how misinformation, propagated early on by police trying to corner their suspect, confused the facts and tainted both the investigation and the trials. He also compares the medical testimony from different doctors, revealing how the physicians could  reach different conclusions from the same scans and records, but still return to their unanimous confidence that the last caretaker with the child before her collapse was guilty of assault.

Journey With “Justice” is not a light read:  It is Dan Schrock’s from-the-heart protest against the murky thinking and questionable tactics that condemned his daughter to lose both her family and her liberty. He and his wife have also been denied any visitation with their surviving granddaughter, at the instigation of the girl’s father and his family. “They believe her mother killed her sister,” Schrock sighs, “And they don’t want our side of the family in her life.”

He told me he wrote Journey so that his granddaughter would some day have a record of what really happened, and as a testament to the support his family received from their church community. In that he has succeeded. Especially when he talks about the case in retrospect, now that he has the leisure of hindsight, he is a living testament to the value of faith. His indignation comes through, and his love for his daughter, but I found no bitterness in his message.

Barb Schrock should be getting out of prison in the next few months. It is comforting to know that she will have an accepting family and community to help her move forward when this phase of her ordeal is over.

Update: Barbara Schrock was released from prison in early summer, 2014.

If you are not familiar with the debate surrounding shaken baby syndrome, please see the home page of this blog site.

copyright 2014, Sue Luttner

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Filed under abusive head trauma, AHT, Falsely accused, parents accused, SBS, shaken baby syndrome

Flawed Convictions: Breaking Academic Ground

Flawed ConvictionsThe next phase of the shaken baby debate is coming right up:  Next month professor Deborah Tuerkheimer at the DePaul University College of Law is publishing a book through Oxford University Press, USA, that will reject decades of courtroom outcomes in these cases. Flawed Convictions: “Shaken Baby Syndrome” and the Inertia of Injustice promises not only to explain how a flawed theory has become entrenched in the courtroom but also to propose a way out of the morass we are in now.

Prof. Tuerkheimer, once a New York child abuse prosecutor, was already aware of the triad and its role in the courtroom in 2008 when she heard about the successful appeal of the Audrey Edmunds conviction. She studied both the legal arguments and the medical references, and concluded that the Edmunds court was correct: Medical consensus regarding shaken baby syndrome had dissipated since the 1997 trial. As Tuerkheimer explains in the book’s introduction, now available on line:

“The criminal justice implications were staggering. The mainstream medical rethinking recognized by the court could not undermine this one conviction without undermining the convictions of others whose cases also depended on the triad.”

Her first expectation, she writes, was that the Edmunds decision would trigger “a massive institutional effort to correct error.” What she encountered, however, was a system not only poorly equipped to vet medical testimony but also averse to changing course:

“Throughout the process—from prosecutorial decisions, to evidentiary rulings, to judicial review—we see a drive to push forward rather than revisit. A diagnosis of SBS sets in motion systemic confirmation, first in the clinical realm, and then the legal. The course of injustice is almost immovable.”

Prof. Deborah Tuerkheimer

Prof. Deborah Tuerkheimer

Still, Tuerkheimer insists that the course can be changed, and the last chapter of the book will offer her prescription for achieving that goal. I’m hoping she suggests a systematic review of past shaking convictions, as an alternative to the current practice of appealing them one by one.

My favorite line in the promotional blurbs is in the Amazon description, which explains that doctors are no longer sure that the triad can be caused only by abuse, or that the last adult with the child is necessarily guilty, but notes that the legal system has failed to adapt to the change:

As a result, innocent parents and caregivers remain incarcerated and, perhaps more perplexingly, triad-only prosecutions continue even to this day.

You can read a quick summary of Tuerkheimer’s conclusions in her 2010 New York Times op ed piece. She has published two law journal articles on the subject, one explaining her position and calling for change, and a second a few years later, expressing her impatience with the lack of progress.

Her observation on the current situation:

Today, an acceptance of triad-based prosecutions that once was complete has dissolved—alas, to be supplanted by a distibution of justice that is halting and unequal, with disadvantage breaking along familiar lines.

Surely its distinguished author and pedigreed publisher will give Flawed Convictions credibility. I look forward to reading Tuerkheimer’s prescription for change, and I hope her book reaches readers on both sides of the debate.

If you click on the image of the book on the Amazon page, you can read quite a bit of the book itself.

If you are not familiar with the debate surrounding shaken baby syndrome, please see the home page of this site.

copyright 2014, Sue Luttner

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Filed under abusive head trauma, AHT, SBS, shaken baby syndrome, Uncategorized

New Cases Keep Coming, And So Do the Appeals

brianPeixotoThe action in the shaken baby arena seems to be ramping up, maybe because a few successful appeals have breathed new hope into old cases. This site is receiving not only the usual traffic from newly accused families looking for answers but also messages from supporters on the outside renewing their commitment to prisoners convicted years ago—like Brian Peixoto, who has been such an exemplary inmate during 18 years of incarceration that he was chosen to train service dogs at one facility, although he’s since been transferred.

Brian’s most recent appeal was turned down this past fallbut his case has been taken on by both the innocence arm of his state’s public defense committee and the New England Innocence Project, and his supporters have just this winter put up an ambitious web site.

Closer to the public eye, judges have granted new hearings in two old cases, reopening the convictions of child care providers Jennifer Del Prete in Illinois, whose case I looked at in a posting last month, and René Bailey in New York, featured briefly in a posting last summer. In Bailey’s case, the appeal brief offered a new report from a child care provider who said she had seen a 2-year-old boy who was at Bailey’s home on the crucial day re-enacting with stuffed animals a sequence that matched Bailey’s description of an accidental injury to a little girl. Both that boy and another child had confirmed Bailey’s report at the time, but were deemed too young to be reliable witnesses.

ReneeBaileyThe decision in Bailey’s case, issued by Monroe County Court Judge James J. Piampiano, limits the new hearing to the question of whether the defense has really produced “new evidence” with its proffered testimony from experts about a change in medical thinking regarding shaken baby syndrome and from the boy’s care provider about her observations.  Reporter Steve Orr wrote in the Democrat Chronicle:

At the time of her conviction, nearly all physicians and other experts believed that symptoms such as those displayed by [the toddler] could be caused by violent shaking, and conversely that nothing other than shaking or throwing a child could cause them.

But some experts now argue that those conclusions were based on shaky science. They say new research shows falls or illnesses can cause some of the symptoms traditionally ascribed to shaking.

The Criminal Justice Center Blog at Pace Law School posted this commentary on the case.

jhavardIn Mississippi, meanwhile, where Jeffrey Havard waits on death row, his supporters have created a thorough new web site that includes the text of his most recent appeal, filed in November of 2013. The appeal is based on both a new set of expert opinions and the 2009 recanting by the state’s star witness, Dr. Steven Hayne, of the sexual abuse diagnosis that made Havard eligible for the death penalty. Arguing that testimony about shaken baby syndrome at Havard’s 2002 trial has also not withstood the test of time, attorney Graham P. Carner quotes, among others, the affidavit of biomechanical engineer Chris Van Ee, PhD:

It would be biomechanically incorrect to dismiss the history of fall as a causal factor resulting in the findings described at autopsy. Shaking is a less likely explanation for these findings…
The rotational forces attained in manual shaking cannot be equated to those occurring as a result of a multistory fall or a high speed motor vehicle accident. To suggest otherwise is without scientific foundation.

amandaRallyFeb2014And in Florida, friends and family are regrouping in support of Amanda Brumfield, convicted in the 2008 death of her best friend’s one-year-old daughter. Brumfield reported that the baby had fallen and hit her head while climbing out of a portable playpen. Supporters are launching their new campaign with a rally next Friday at the church Amanda attended before her incarceration.

Supporters of child care provider Marsha Mills in Ohio have had their site up since 2007, within months of Mills’ conviction in another toddler-fall case. The site shows fundraisers for her defense as recently as November of 2013. They are now awaiting the results of the most recent appeal.

Finally, in Canada, Onatario Court of Appeal Judge Marc Rosenberg has authorized appeals by two shaken baby defendants who have already served their time but want to clear their records. The decision cites the lessons of the Goudge hearings in 2012.

All of this appeal activity would feel like progress, except that the other kind of story keeps coming as well. Just in the past two days I’ve seen news reports of shaking allegations against a father in Wisconsin, a young mother in Pennsylvania, and the boyfriend of the child’s mother in Ohio.

Note:  A number of support sites have remained in place for years but are not mentioned in this posting because they are holding steady, not surging. Still, it feels incomplete not to mention here the The Amanda Truth Project, which contains many family vignettes. For a  list of individual support sites, petitions, and Facebook pages, please see the lower portion of the Cases page on this blog.

If you are not familiar with the debate surrounding shaken baby syndrome, please see the home page of this blog.

copyright 2014, Sue Luttner

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Filed under abusive head trauma, AHT, Brian Peixoto, Falsely accused, Jeffrey Havard, Jennifer Del Prete, Renee Bailey, SBS, shaken baby syndrome