Two different judges in two separate cases have looked carefully at the facts in front of them and found the kind of fundamental problems that plague shaken baby prosecutions.
In October, District Court Judge John Telleen in Scott County, Iowa, addressed an issue I’ve been wanting someone in authority to notice for years now, the implications of a pre-existing subdural hematoma. Judge Telleen’s oral decision declaring an accused father not guilty included this observation:
All of the State’s evidence or the vast majority of it related to the 12 hours before admission on November 5. Frankly, I believe it’s clear that nothing happened on or about November 4 or November 5 that could possibly have caused a subacute subdural hematoma that had been in existence from anywhere from three days to ten days prior to that.
Like Judge Matthew Kennelly following the Del Prete hearings, Judge Telleen was left doubting both shaking theory and its application to the case at hand:
[I]t is my understanding from the testimony that I found credible that there are no scientific studies that support or document that shaking causes brain hematoma or brain bleeds…
[F]rankly I have some serious doubt whether a crime was even committed here much less that the defendant did it.
The judge noted that the infant, only three weeks old when clear neurological symptoms emerged, had been sick since birth, and he chided the child abuse pediatrician for making the “default diagnosis” of abuse without doing a full work-up to eliminate metabolic or bleeding disorders, or even a vitamin D deficiency, as the child had healing fractures that could possibly, but not definitively, be dated back to birth
The state’s ophthalmologist had apparently testified that he couldn’t be certain the child was abused, and conceded that a sharp rise in intracranial pressure (ICP) could account for the retinal hemorrhages. Judge Telleen said:
Dr. L was a credible witness. He was a straight shooter. He said he couldn’t place it beyond 51 percent, his opinion that he thought it was caused by non-accidental trauma. However, he freely acknowledged as an honest witness that increased intracranial pressure can cause retinal hemorrhage, he couldn’t rule that out.
There seems to have been no press coverage of the innocent verdict, so there was never any public correction to the initial news stories, which quoted an affidavit that the father had “engaged in three or more acts of child endangerment, including at least one act that resulted in serious injury.”
December update: The local paper has now covered the decision, at http://www.press-citizen.com/story/news/2014/12/24/uihc-shaken-baby/20858227/
Defense attorney Kent Simmons said his client turned down a plea agreement that would have avoided jail time, because he did not want to admit to doing something he didn’t do. “I told my client he was a very brave man,” Simmons said. “And Judge Telleen is an honest, bright, and fair jurist.”
And I’ve just learned about a decision this past spring in Oregon, where Appeals Court Judge Angel Lopez affirmed a trial court’s decision barring a confession from the courtroom, concluding that the father’s statement was made involuntarily. After hours of taped interrogation that focused on his daughter’s injuries, the detectives had turned off the recorder for 25 minutes and then turned it back on to capture the disputed confession. The published decision includes this touching quote from the trial judge:
Here was a man who had a baby in the hospital for shaken baby syndrome or some traumatic issue. Several times during the discussion with him he was asked to tell the truth because that would predicate what the treatment would be for the baby. Implicit in that is if he didn’t, the baby was going to end up worse off.
I see that as compelling. I see the going back and forth by saying—minimizing to the defendant what’s going to happen to him if he [comes] clean and he confesses. I believe that the statements, given these facts and circumstances, were involuntarily made, and that’s based on the totality of circumstances. There’s no one thing that jumps out at me but there are a lot of things that together tell me that his will was overborne by two detectives in that hospital room over two days.
With supporting quotes from the interrogation transcripts, Judge Lopez added his own analysis:
Having made clear that G had serious medical issues that could be ameliorated by a confession—an assertion that, as a matter of medical fact, is without any support in the record—the officers also appealed to defendant’s paternal responsibilities, his religion, stated that defendant was the only one who could help G, and stated, in effect, that the way to provide that help was to tell the officers that he had accidentally shaken her.
I am always glad when someone in a position of authority stops to consider what it must be like for an accused parent, frantic with worry for their child, to be harangued by detectives intent on extracting a confession.
6 responses to “Decisions Address Timing, Coercion”
Look, I am a survivor of SBS. Unfortunately, it sickens me to have to spell out what SBS is since it includes at the very end a word that totally obliterates the ‘SEVERITY’ of this CRIME!, that word is ‘Syndrome”.
No society, or Country touted as a ‘free’ country like the USA, likes to believe that there are such crimes which more often than those in law enforcement want to consider or even have the capacity to ‘comprehend’ in includes sick sexual predators that ‘do’ commit heinous crimes upon infants of only weeks of age. I know because I am one of those victims. My son I carried for six months of pregnant and was forced to terminate despite the fact that such procedures had been outlawed by the US Supreme Court didn’t make any difference to my biological father who was also the perpetrator of the SBS injuries (med records on archive at Madison, WI’s University Hospital) and then the murder of the father of my son nine years alter. All has been swept under the rug and facts totally ignored, ‘WHY?’ because I am a SBS victim/survivor. In other words, my son that I carried for over six months of pregnancy and the father of my son (both who I loved with all my heart and soul) were ‘collateral damage’ and were simply ‘in the way’ therefore had to be killed/murdered by my biological father as a means for him to continue to cover up for his having sexually molested me as an infant of only weeks of age. Obviously I cannot ‘cognitively’ tell you what precise day it was but it did result in my being hospitalized on March 4th, 1960 through March 28th, 1960 as a means to save my life. I was admitted to the hospital 1 months & 18 days of age after my biological father sexually molested me as an infant. My biological father had a county cop for an uncle (biological mother’s only sibling’s husband) who covered him not only for what he’d done to me as an infant (SBS and other injuries, still ortho/pedic residual affects) but went on to commit more heinous crimes that the county has continued to cover for. His uncle died on April 25th, 2005, and no longer has the ‘clout’ of a former county deputy but my biological father still has his uncle’s home residence phone number that his uncle/deputy had transferred over in the early 1980’s as a means to cover up for the crimes that my biological father committed over the years.
Shaken Baby Syndrome ‘does’ exist. It often happens and is covered up, e.g. it was done in anger like a baby sitter shaking a bad child. Unfortunately, it is spurred on by other sick and sexually motivated reasons and has deep roots in a sexual predator’s feelings of inadequacy or low self esteem about one’s self or sexual importance. Because society ‘has’ begun to recognize SBS crime, such as a child being shaken by the baby sitter scenario, and has taken it serious and recognizing it as a crime (which it is!!!) the sexual deviants who’ve committed sexually deviant SBS injuries upon infants (or young children) have become more careful over the years as to not be detected/supsected in their acts of infant/child abuse. In other-words, if a criminal thinks that they are being investigated then they ‘lay low’ and/or either stop or be more careful in their evil ways.
I truly believe that there is any such thing as a ‘rehabilitated’ sexual deviant/perpetrator and the thought that a perpetrator can undergo therapy and/or be chemically castrated does not change the perpetrator’s hard wiring for deviant behavior.
It is my feeling, being an SBS survivor with injuries that are out of the realm of what is commonly recognized in the realm of a SBS victim, that lessening the severity or seriousness of SBS as a crime, will only open the door for the sexual deviant/sexual predators to go on committing criminal acts upon children/infants under the guise of the SBS case that ‘are’ simply often a case of a baby sitter being overwhelmed with caring for an irritable child, or a sibling being hostile towards another sibling.
From my personal life’s experience (and my son I carried lovingly for six months and the father of my son that was murdered nine years after my son was murdered by my biological father who was also the perpetrator of my SBS injuries in the 1960’s) I think it would be a huge miscarriage of justice as a whole society to discount, or second guess SBS as being a crime and/or slough it off as something like ‘just being born that way’.
Thank you for opening this comment more politely, allowing me to approve it.
I am sorry to have added to your pain. I hope you can find a path to healing, which might include not reading my blog.
If one looks at the already published information about Virginia Jaspers, it is clear that she did more than shake her victims.
She slammed their heads into upholstered surfaces or mattresses, in each and every case.
If this would only become part of the dialogue it would help solve the problem with these false convictions.
I have more information on Virginia but no one listens, we are all complacent unless, charged with this false crime.
Doctors not only make “off the cuff statements” as Peter Stevens suggests but they also tell Lies when it comes to accusing parents or others of Shaking an infant to death and it is about time these liers were struck off the Medical Register.
Google Michael D Innis and Tissue Scurvy for an understanding of the problem.
Judge Lopez is the first judge to recognize the pressures by interrogators brought to bear on caregivers while they are under the stress of having a child crash on their watch. There are many other interrogation issues that we see regularly in these cases that also need looking into, such as the length of the interrogation, telling witnesses that “We know what happened so it’ll be easier for you if you tell us what we already know,” the lack of recognition by police officers that doctors can (and do) make off the cuff statements that subsequently turn out to be mistaken, etc etc and etc.
As usual you do a fine summary of recent cases of alleged SBS. Regrettably these cases are still brought and convictions are common. In so many of them facts are obscure. Many have no provable abuse at all. Others have no evidence who caused damage except for the assertion the last caregiver was responsible.