Just three years ago, the only books I could find about shaken baby syndrome told the prosecution’s story: Medical texts offered confident advice about symptoms and timing . One guide for practitioners, The Shaken Baby Syndrome: A Multi-Disciplinary Approach, specifically recommended the kind of seamless co-operation among hospitals, social services, and the police that has been winning convictions in these cases for thirty years and counting . And a number of personal books told the stories of families ravaged by the loss of a precious child to presumed shaking [3,4].
Now the other storyline is hitting the shelves: Two women have already published books about their experiences as exonerated baby-shakers, and more works are on the horizon.
It Happened to Audrey
It Happened to Audrey is the memoir of Audrey Edmunds, a wife, mother, and child care provider who spent a decade in prison before her conviction was overturned in 2008 after an appeal by the Wisconsin Innocence Project.
Written with her friend Jill Wellington, a journalist, the book traces Audrey’s harrowing journey, from her horror and feelings of guilt the day a 6-month-old girl fell unconscious in her care, through the unimaginable accusations, trial, and years in prison for an assault that she knew had never happened. The experience not only shattered Audrey’s world but gave everyone around her a new perspective. In this excerpt, for example, a seasoned reporter sees a new side to the crime beat:
Meanwhile, my journalist friend, Jill Wellington, was working at a television station in Michigan the day after the verdict came in. Her hands trembled as she punched in the phone number for the Dane County Courthouse. “Hello, I’m a news reporter in Michigan and I’d like to get the verdict in the Audrey Edmunds case.”
“Well, of course, she’s guilty,” the woman who answered the phone replied tersely.
Jill was stunned at this abrupt, ill-considered comment. One of Jill’s coworkers knew a producer at Dateline, NBC. Jill called him and asked if he would investigate my case. A week later, she called the producer again and was shocked at his reply.
“I talked to some of the newspaper reporters who covered Audrey’s case,” the producer said. “They all say she’s guilty.”
Anyone who has been falsely accused of injuring a child will resonate with this book. I hope it’s also read by social workers, investigators, and people who assume that an innocent person cannot be convicted in our justice system.
When Truth No Longer Matters
Meanwhile in Britain, accused parent Heather Toomey has written a remarkable account of her historic battle with social services, When Truth No Longer Matters.
Through unwavering focus and the support of extended family, Heather managed to keep herself, her husband, and their two young sons together while she and her husband fought accusations of shaking the younger boy. Seven years later, the child was diagnosed with a bleeding disorder that explained the subdural hematoma behind the original shaking diagnosis.
At the time, however, the Toomey family was branded as child abusers, under constant pressure to “tell the truth” so as to “clear up” what had happened to their baby. They abandon their home and move in with relatives, so as to satisfy the supervision requirements. They struggle to stay ahead of the financial burdens and attend unending court-imposed appointments. They tolerate frequent, intrusive visits; evaluations; interrogations; and bureaucratic hurdles, all while trying to maintain the kind of positive attitude the social workers demand.
“The authorities have taken a capable mother and turned her into a paranoid mess,” Heather writes, convincingly.
Finally, she and her husband give in to the pressure and sign a “threshold agreement,” in which they admit to failing their young son in return for having their case closed. She writes:
We still firmly believe that the cause is medical, but we have no doctor prepared to back up our belief . . . whichever way we look at it, it is less of a leap to admit to failing him than it is to admit to abusing him.
With the parents subdued, their children’s names are removed from the “at risk” register, and the constant interference comes to an end. They are allowed to return to their own home. “The case conference concludes that there were never any concerns raised about us as parents or about the children’s welfare during the entire time of their involvement,” Heather recounts. “Our children have never been at risk from us, only from those who failed to investigate anything other than suppositions and accusations.”
Like Audrey’s story, Heather’s from-the-heart narrative will validate the experiences of accused parents and caregivers. Again, I hope the book also finds an audience among social workers, investigators, and prosecutors, who need to listen to the child-abuse experts, but not without keeping an open mind to the bigger picture.
You can read more about Heather’s story on her web site, at http://www.searchfortruth.co.uk/index.html
Edges of Truth: The Mary Weaver Story
Exonerated babysitter Mary Weaver has collaborated with ministerial writer Deb Brammer on a book about Mary’s ordeal, Edges of Truth: The Mary Weaver Story, scheduled for release in the fall of 2013. Weaver was one of the first babysitters convicted of shaking an infant in her care, in the early 1990s, and one of the first exonerations.
The tag line for the book is:
“When a baby is brutally murdered, an innocent babysitter is accused and uncertainty forces experts to define the edges of truth.”
And a couple of years ago a physician and a journalist together published a book questioning one aspect of shaken baby syndrome, Shaken Baby Syndrome and Vaccine-Induced Encephalitis: Are Parents Being Falsely Accused? By Harold Buttram, MD, and journalist Christina England (AuthorHouse, 2011).
Spring 2014 update: Law professor Deborah Tuerkheimer has now published her academic treatment of the subject, Flawed Convictions: “Shaken Baby Syndrome” and the Inertia of Injustice.
copyright 2013, Sue Luttner
If you are not familiar with the controversy surrounding shaken baby syndrome, please see the home page of this blog.
 Shaking and Other Non-Accidental Head Injuries in Children, by Drs. Robert A. Minns and J. Keith Brown, Mac Keith Press, 2006
 The Shaken Baby Syndrome: A Multidisciplinary Approach, edited by Drs. Stephen Lazoritz and Vincent J. Palusci, The Haworth Maltreatment & Trauma Press, 2001
 Grandma’s Baby: A True Story of One Family’s Struggle with “Shaken Baby Syndrome” and what they call “Shaken Family Syndrome,” by Karen Wise, R.N., Trafford Publishing, 2006
 What Happened to Christopher? by Ann-Janine Morey, Southern Illinois University Press, 1998