Tag Archives: abusive head trauma

The Word Is Out

WashPostTitleAfter 30 years of occasional, isolated coverage, both the national and the local media are starting to take a serious look at the debate about shaken baby theory—even as the accusations and convictions continue.

This past weekend Debbie Cenziper at The Washington Post published what I think qualifies as an exposé of shaking theory, the result of a full year of research that brought together the work of other Post staffers as well as students and teachers at half a dozen universities, including the Medill Justice Project at Northwestern University.

Dr. A. Norman Guthkelch

Dr. A. Norman Guthkelch

Shaken Science: A Disputed Diagnosis Imprisons Parents” offers a thorough but engaging analysis of the issues, including  helpful diagrams and the most accessible press treatment I’ve seen yet of the biomechanics. Cenziper opens, of course, with the story of one accused caregiver and interweaves more cases along the way, so that the piece is not only informative but also readable. She also reports the thoughts of several physicians, including Dr. A. Norman Guthkelch, the first person to propose in print, in the British Medical Journal in 1971, that shaking an infant could cause subdural bleeding.

The National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome (NCSBS) has released a response to the Post piece, listing the professional organizations that have endorsed shaken baby theory and protesting:

 The Washington Post article portrays a “dispute” in the medical community as to the existence of SBS/AHT. There is a very small minority of proponents for the position that shaking cannot harm an infant, but this position is not supported by the science.

Like the letters protesting the film The Syndrome, the NCSBS response to the Post says that critics of shaking theory think that shaking a baby is not dangerous, although I don’t see anyone in the article making that statement. I think the question is whether the presence of the brain injury proves that a child was violently assaulted.

Cenziper’s article has been picked up in a number of regional newspapers, including the Hamilton Spectator in Ontario, the Daily Herald in Illinois, and the Dallas Morning News in TexaPBSNewsHours.

Then on Monday of this week, PBS NewsHour ran a segment on the shaking debate, a report titled “A disputed diagnosis that sends parents to prison for abuse.” The piece includes a look at the case of Drayton Witt in Arizona, whose appeal drew Dr. Guthkelch back into the arena, as well as interviews with child abuse pediatrician Dr. Lori Frasier—the author of a book on abusive head trauma written “for clinicians, investigators, prosecutors, and social workers”—and Katherine Judson from the Innocence Network.

Josh Burns with his daughter Naomi

Josh Burns with his daughter

Even before these national treatments emerged, regional news outlets had started giving sympathetic coverage to local cases. Last week in Michigan, Heather Catallo of ABC affiliate WXYZ  led off her video report about convicted father Joshua Burns with images of Burns’s supporters proclaiming their faith in his innocence at his sentencing hearing. The prosecutor argued for a harsh sentence, calling Burns a “danger” and objecting, “He’s not admitting that he did it. He’s still maintaining full innocence.” But the judge handed down the minimum sentence, a year in jail. Yesterday, WXYZ reported that prosecutors say they are not moving to terminate Joshua’s parental rights.

Also in early March, the Bennington Banner in Vermont ran a feature story by Keith Whitcomb Jr. about accused father Russell Van Vleck, found innocent by a jury in 2011 after a two-year nightmare for his entire family. Van Vleck’s son Colin, 5 weeks old the evening he quit breathing while lying on the couch next to his father, had been born with a skull malformation that had complicated his delivery.

TheSyndromeAnd the film exposé The Syndrome, which premiered in the fall of 2014, is being accepted at film festivals across the country (coming up: the (In)justice for All Film Festival in Chicago, April 13, and the Arizona International Film Festival in Tucson, April 18), staying in the news and triggering more coverage of the topic.

Outside of the mainstream press, web sites targeted to attorneys are also addressing shaken baby syndrome. On Wednesday of this week, the American Bar Association published an article in its Children’s Rights Litigation section by Katherine Judson at the Innocence Network, titled “What Child Welfare Attorneys Need to Know About Shaken Baby Litigation.” In February, the site LLRX.com, which describes itself as a web journal offering resources for legal professionals, published a valuable review of the debate, “Shaken Baby Syndrome: A Differential Diagnosis of Justice,” featuring live links to court decisions, journal articles, and other resources, by attorney, librarian, and writer Ken Struton, and the National Association of Public Defenders published an essay by public defender Jill Paperno, “Another Step Away From Bad Science – a Review of the  History and Science of Shaken Baby Syndrome in People v. Rene Bailey (December 16, 2014, Monroe County, NY).”

Still, the community of child abuse experts and the justice system remain committed to shaken baby theory. Yesterday in South Carolina, an 18-year police veteran was in court, accused of shaking his 3-month-old son into permanent brain damage. According to the local news report, the prosecutor told the judge that the boy’s injuries “could only have been caused by a violent shaking or by a fall of 20 feet or more.”

oklahomaChildrensIn Oklahoma last week, a step-father was charged with abuse after reporting that the baby fell from a bed. According to the News 9 coverage:

Detectives said they knew [the stepfather] was not being honest about what happened after doctors said the baby’s injuries weren’t consistent with his story. “The baby had to be violently shaken for him to have these injuries,” [Det. David] Thompkins said.

And this week in New York, detectives revisiting an old case charged a mother’s ex-boyfriend with manslaughter for the 2010 death of a 13-month-old boy who suffered injuries “consistent with shaken baby syndrome.” According to the report in The Buffalo News, detectives had acquired a more definitive medical opinion and carried out an additional interview with the suspect:

“In questioning Gonzalez, detectives were able to confirm a few things, though he didn’t confess, but it helped our case,” [Homicide Capt. Joseph] Gramaglia said. “We also obtained a medical opinion that bolstered the case.”

I don’t know what it will take to stop the ongoing tragedy of shaken baby theory in the courtroom. I have taken one small step, though. I’ve signed the Protecting Innocent Families petition, which asks for an objective, scientific review of the evidence behind today’s guidelines for diagnosing child abuse.

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

copyright 2015, Sue Luttner


Filed under abusive head trauma, National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome, SBS, shaken baby syndrome

Shaking: “A False and Flawed Premise”

Kristian Aspelin and his son Johan

Kristian and Johan Aspelin

February opened with a pair of important and complementary postings, a bold academic statement signed by 34 physicians, attorneys, and child-protection professionals with “deep concerns” about shaken baby theory in the courtroom, and a beautifully written examination of the Johan Aspelin case that illustrates why the experts are so concerned.

Published in the British journal Argument & Critique, the Open Letter on Shaken Baby in the Courts: A False and Flawed Premise argues that a diagnosis of shaking “risks blurring the line between diagnosis and verdict,” and that “SBS has never been proved as anything more than an hypothesis.” Citing the dearth of scientific research underlying the theory, the authors write:

Noticeably, the requirement for scientifically based evidence is far more rigorous in medical negligence cases than in the family or criminal courts where believing something to be true appears to have achieved sufficient evidential value to sway the determinations of the court.

The letter also notes that the justice system has tended to suppress arguments about shaken baby syndrome:

One of the consequences has been the vilification of experts prepared to advance competing theories and the suppression of sensible debate.

Dr. Waney Squier

Dr. Waney Squier

One example of such vilification is unfolding now in England, where pediatric neuropathologist Dr. Waney Squier is facing a challenge to her license triggered by complaints to the General Medical Council (GMC), reportedly from the Metropolitan Police, that her courtroom testimony exceeds her area of expertise and ignores the opinions of her peers. Dr. Squier has been testifying on behalf of accused parents for about the past decade, since her own research, clinical experience, and reading of the literature convinced her that the prevailing model of shaken baby syndrome is flawed.

My favorite report about Dr. Squier’s GMC hearings, which opened in the fall and continue intermittently, is a legal-training company’s blog posting that features praise from readers for her intellectual honesty in the face of peer pressure. A general practitioner offered this striking parallel with an historical report to the GMC:

Surely the Met investigating a Dr who happens not to agree with the consensus — and holds an expert view — is a little like the tobacco companies (circa 1960s) reporting Sir Richard Doll to GMC for his novel theory that tobacco caused lung cancer.

WhatRealllyHappenedJohan copyIn the U.S., meanwhile, an in-depth treatment of the Johan Aspelin case published last week on Medium by reporter Elizabeth Weil also reveals striking new facts, like the botching of Johan’s initial intubation at San Francisco General, which caused the complete collapse of one lung and serious damage to the other. And that Johan received several times the recommended dosages of two different sedatives, which, Weil writes, “left him essentially paralyzed and unable to communicate distress as air was pumped into his compromised lungs.” The article notes:

Nowhere in the police investigation transcripts does it suggest that doctors considered Johan had a brain injury and retinal hemorrhaging due to low blood-oxygen levels and high carbon dioxide pressure, problems that may result from faulty intubation.

Johan’s mother Jennie Aspelin learned about the error and resulting crisis only because she’d contacted the organ-donation agency to find out why there had been no recipient reported for Johan’s lungs, as there had been for his other organs. Even then she received only the oblique message that it was “a matter of function,” enough to send her on a focused search for the full medical records.


Johan Aspelin

In November of 2010, Johan’s father Kristian Aspelin told emergency responders that he had fallen in the kitchen while holding 3-month-old Johan, but child-abuse expert Dr. Chris Stewart rejected that explanation and told police that the boy had been violently shaken to death.

In December of 2012, the county dropped murder charges against Kristian, after defense attorney Stuart Hanlon turned over a collection of exonerating reports from outside experts as well as a carefully assembled medical time line that included the hospital’s mistakes. By that time, the family had lived apart for two years, when they’d  lost their baby and needed each other more than ever. They’d sold their house and taken on a staggering debt to cover legal bills, and they’re not slated for any compensation from the state.

Dr. Mark Feingold

Dr. Mark Feingold

But the people who train child abuse physicians continue to teach that children seldom if ever suffer serious injury in short falls, and that only abuse causes severe retinal hemorrhages. In a January, 2015 lecture titled “Is There a ‘Shaken Baby Syndrome’?,” for example, which earns the medical viewer one continuing education credit, child abuse pediatrician Dr. Mark Feingold reported that hypoxia does not cause “macroscopic subdurals” and that children do not suffer serious injury in short falls:

A lot of our opponents say, “Well, the child died. That’s too bad. But it was a short fall, just like Mom said. He fell from Mom’s arms.” The evidence shows that children who fall more than 20 feet can die, but children who fall less than 3 feet almost never die, and when they do, it’s a different kind of accident. It’s a playground accident. It’s an older child. They die of a large subdural that causes lots of pressure. And the RH if present are not the kind we see in abuse cases (emphasis added). But nonetheless, different versions of “I was carrying the baby and I tripped and fell” are often offered.

Slipping and falling with the baby is the explanation Kristian Aspelin offered, like countless parents and caretakers before him and countless more to come, while pediatricians are being trained to reject that story, and to dismiss the hypoxia that frequently accompanies head injury as a source of compounding symptoms.

The retinal hemorrhages in Johan’s eyes were widespread and multi-layered, the kind that child abuse pediatricians insist do not result from short falls or lack of oxygen to the brain. So were the hemorrhages in the eyes of the toddler in the care of René Bailey, who said the little girl had fallen off a chair—Bailey’s murder conviction was vacated in December. Doctors also pointed to extensive retinal hemorrhages when diagnosing shaking injuries in the cases of exonerated babysitters Jennifer Del Prete and Audrey Edmunds and exonerated father Drayton Witt, and in an exasperating case local to me in which paramedics pulled a rubber band from the child’s throat during resuscitation and the only physical evidence of abuse was the triad. It seems to me that the world now offers quite a few examples of extensive retinal hemorrhages from plausible, non-abusive accidents and medical conditions.

RHKelloggWhen I started researching shaken baby theory more than 15 years ago, I routinely read in trial transcripts that doctors considered the presence of retinal hemorrhages a sure sign of child abuse, but since then the situation has grown more complicated. When researchers started looking systematically, they rediscovered that retinal hemorrhages have a long list of non-traumatic causes, including diabetes, anemia, bleeding disorders, increased intracranial pressure, increased intrathoracic pressure, and certain types of infections. A startling one quarter of neonates born spontaneously arrive with retinal hemorrhages, more in deliveries that involve instruments. In light of this new understanding, child abuse experts now recognize other causes of retinal hemorrhages but insist that most of them result in only a few small hemorrhages near the optic nerve, not in widespread, multi-layer hemorrhages, which they continue to interpret as evidence of whiplash shaking.

I don’t know how we will move forward, but I welcome the growing chorus of voices in the journals, in the press, and in the courtroom, who demonstrate through their work and their testimony that the Open Letter on Shaken Baby is representing the situation correctly in its message to the courts:

In short, we would inform members of the judiciary and legal profession in those countries which utilise the SBS construct, that it does not have the undivided support of the relevant professional community, an essential consideration in the assessment of expert testimony.

The letter was edited by Argument & Critique’s managing editor Dr. Lynne Wrennall, whose doctorate is for work in child welfare, from a draft prepared by solicitor Bill Bache and veteran child social worker Charles Pragnell. The signers include 16 physicians, a handful of scientists, and a variety of social work professionals, from both academia and the field.

For the observations of Phil Locke at the Wrongful Convictions Blog, see his posting about the Open Letter.

The film company Mighty Myt is making a film about Johan Aspelin’s case, In a Moment: The Johan Aspelin Story.

copyright 2015, Sue Luttner

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


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

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


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

New Research Questions Classic Model of Shaken Baby Syndrome

Kieran wired up and ready to jump

When Kieran Lloyd was seven months old, his favorite way to pass the time, right after eating and sleeping, was bouncing in his Fisher-Price Jumparoo.

He would bounce eagerly, smiling and laughing, several times a day if he was given the chance, apparently delighted with the upright posture and the kinetic results of his own kicks.

Then his father, head-injury researcher John Lloyd, PhD, realized that before him danced a chance to measure and record an important new data point in the accumulated knowledge about infant head-injury: A magnitude of repetitive angular acceleration that’s known to be safe.

He fitted his son with an accelerometer, like those used on crash-test dummies in the lab, and collected data while the boy played. By the time Lloyd was done, he had not only replicated the original 1987 research that first cast scientific doubt on infant shaking as a source of subdural hematoma but also refuted the hypothesis that repetition can make a benign acceleration injurious.

Kieran with the CRABI-12 biofidelic mannequin

In a paper published this winter in the Journal of Forensic Biomechanics, Lloyd and his colleagues reported that “angular acceleration of the head during aggressive shaking of the CRABI biofidelic mannequin is statistically indistinguishable from angular head kinematics experienced by a 7-month-old fervently playing in his Jumparoo.”

Lloyd’s paper joins a series of biomechanical studies that have all reached the same conclusion:  Shaking is unlikely to be the source of subdural hematoma in children with no signs of impact or neck injury, despite decades of courtroom testimony to the contrary.

Although the theory of shaken baby syndrome has enjoyed thirty years of general acceptance within the community of child-abuse experts, the diagnosis has been controversial from the beginning. Testing it of course was impossible.

In the mid-1980s, Dr. Ann-Christine Duhaime and her colleagues set out to investigate whether shaking without impact could cause the intracranial bleeding and swelling that defines the syndrome. They examined medical records and revisited autopsy slides, and they conducted laboratory experiments in which adult volunteers shook infant models wired with accelerometers.  They found that shaking without impact did not reach the presumed thresholds for the intracranial bleeding or neuronal damage that’s presumed to result from shaking.

Then the researchers asked their volunteers to throw the dummy down after shaking it, and learned that accelerations upon impact reached injury levels, as illustrated in Figure 2 from their paper (“The Shaken Baby Syndrome:  A clinical, pathological, and biomechanical study,” Journal of Neurosurgery 66:409-415, 1987). The shaking data are the cluster of points at the lower-left corner; the triangles are impact trials. DAI stands for diffuse axonal injury; SDH stands for subdural hematoma.

Duhaime and her team concluded, “Although shaking may, in fact, be part of the process, it is more likely that such infants suffer blunt impact. The most common scenario may be a child who is shaken, then thrown into or against a crib or other surface.”

Lloyd did not conduct impact trials, but his shaking data were in the same range as not only Duhaime’s data but also those of Prange et al., who replicated the original work in 2003  (“Anthromomorphic simulations of falls, shakes, and inflicted impacts in infants,” J Neurosurgery 99:143–150, 2003).

The NCSB demonstration doll and the CRABI-12 biofidelic mannequin

To help establish a base line for the forces commonly experienced by an infant, Lloyd also recorded acceleration data during what are called “activities of everyday living,” or ADLs. Adult volunteers rocked and burped the wired crash-test dummy, walked and ran on a treadmill with it, and took it for stroller rides over various surfaces.

Lloyd also had volunteers shake the demonstration doll sold by the National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome. The doll is commonly used in trainings, and occasionally it’s allowed in court. The doll weighs only two pounds and volunteers were able to shake it longer and harder than the CRABI-12, producing higher angular accelerations—but still not high enough to reach projected injury thresholds.

Figure 7, below, from Lloyd’s paper summarizes the accelerations recorded during various scenarios. The entire article is available on line at this address.


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

Can We Help Win a Pardon for Shirley Ree Smith?

christmas cactus blossom

April 6 update:  Governor Jerry Brown has commuted Shirley Smith’s sentence.  Shirley thanks everyone who wrote on her behalf, and I add congratulations to that.

I was expecting to hear by now from California Governor Jerry Brown about a possible pardon for Shirley Ree Smith (case summary), but there’s been no word yet.

Over the weekend, Shirley’s daughter Tomeka Smith told me they’re hoping to hear soon, because in a few weeks her mother will be taken back into custody—-but there’s still time for individuals to contact the governor’s office encouraging the pardon, as detailed below.

The Smith case continues to pop up in the press.  On the bright side:

Distressingly, a bereaved grandmother in Fresno, California, has launched a campaign against the pardon, on the theory that Ms. Smith is guilty. You can read the press coverage here.

Meanwhile, the governor’s office makes it easy for individuals to voice their opinions on these questions.  One click takes you to the contact page, at http://gov.ca.gov/m_contact.php

To make sure your comment is received in time, use the electronic form, which first asks for four pieces of information:  Your first and last name, your email address, and the subject of your comment.  Open the drop-down subject menu and select the “Pardon” item.  The user interface is odd, because you then have to click the “Submit” button before you’re given a text box for comments, but if you soldier on, you can get there.

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

Pardon Possible in Smith Case

It’s too early to celebrate, but the Sacramento Bee reports that Governor Jerry Brown is expected to pardon Shirley Ree Smith, the grandmother whose conviction in a shaking case was recently reaffirmed by the Supreme Court:


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

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 https://onsbs.com/

-Sue Luttner


Filed under abusive head trauma, shaken baby syndrome