Father Not Guilty in Minnesota

A Minnesota jury found a father not guilty this week on all three counts against him stemming from the 2009 death of his 4-month-old son.

Piecing together the available press reports, the trial seems to have taken two weeks, with the prosecution resting on Monday, April 23.  The defense started its case on Tuesday morning, followed by closing arguments and a jury decision on Wednesday, April 25.

The background:  Defendant Damien L. Marsden was at home with his 4-month-old son Rylin for approximately half an hour on August 2, 2009, while the boy’s mother was out shopping. Marsden was reportedly grilling hamburgers outside. When the boy’s mother arrived home, the two of them went inside together, found the boy “pale and lifeless,” and called 911.

During defense testimony the child’s grandmother, Tammy Klein, told the court that the infant had been dropped at her day care facility just a week before the incident, on July 23, which left him crying and with a red mark on his head. The elder Marsden reported that his son had fallen from a bed on August 1, the day before he was rushed to the hospital.

Prosecution witness Dr. Arne Graff, however, testified that the boy died from “non-accidental head trauma” that could not have been caused by a short fall.

After Graff’s testimony, reporter Chris Bieri of the Grand Forks Herald wrote

Graff, a child abuse pediatrics specialist from Sanford Health in Fargo, maintained that the condition responders found Rylin Marsden in was an immediate response to trauma, not a reaction to an earlier fall or accident.

He said the spreading of blood in Rylin Marsden’s head was consistent with a rotational injury or shaking, not just an impact injury.

Graff said during an examination of the child, he noticed retinal hemorrhage and said the results of a CT scan showed brain bleeding, both consistent with having his head shaken.

Graff said there was nothing in Marsden’s medical or family history that would have complicated a different type of injury, causing it to become deadly.

Forensic pathologist Jonathan Arden testified for the defense, as described in a later article:

Arden, an expert anatomic and forensic pathologist based out of northern Virginia, provided testimony supporting a theory that Rylin Marsden’s hospitalization and eventual death were the result of a pair of falls, the first coming at Klein’s daycare.

Arden’s theory was initially based on his finding that there were signs of two different injuries, and that re-bleeding of the initial injury in the boy’s head caused him to be hospitalized on Aug 2.

The second injury was purported to be a barely more than 2-foot fall from a bed onto a carpet on Aug. 1. Arden said the timeline of injuries on July 23 and Aug. 1 were consistent with what he saw in the healing of initial injury and re-bleeding.

Arden went over a number of CT scans with the jury and testified that his reading of initial CT scans having both fresh and healing hemorrhages were in agreement with a case radiologist’s findings.

Prosecutors inferred Arden was a witness for hire — he runs a consulting firm and testified to charging $400 an hour for consulting and $4,000 per day for court appearances.

The trial also featured the new trend toward avoiding the phrase “shaken baby syndrome” in favor of “abusive head trauma” or “non-accidental head trauma.” The coverage of the defense testimony included this report:

Klein testified Graff continually told the extended family he knew it was a shaken baby, a term Graff said under oath on Monday he didn’t use.

Another day’s coverage read:

There also was testimony on the term “shaken baby syndrome,” which Graff said he only uses to describe what is now referred to as “non-accidental head trauma.”

In summary, this case sounds like a classic of the genre. The earlier articles seem no longer to be on line, but the final Grand Forks Herald article is at:    Marsden Found Not Guilty on All Three Murder Counts

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

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