- Del Meyer, MD - http://delmeyer.net -

Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS)

by Del Meyer

Publicized Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS) charges or convictions have now risen to two a day. Prosecutors like these cases because it gives them almost guaranteed high-profile convictions. Jury acquittals are very rare, though I see that defense testimony by Dr. Janice Ophoven, a pediatric forensic pathologist from Minnesota, just won a jury acquittal yesterday for a teenage babysitter accused of SBS in Colorado. He faced 48 years in jail if convicted.

Here are five SBS examples from just the past two weeks (article excerpts below):

1. Boyfriend faces 25-years to life for SBS of a girl who had fallen to a pavement days earlier.

2. Father faces 1st degree murder for SBS; denied child abuse but admitted “bouncing” baby.

3. Boyfriend charged with SBS despite lack of any external injuries.

4. Pregnant babysitter charged with SBS: prosecutor stated that “no evidence that anyone [else] caused the … death.”

5. Father sentenced to nine years for SBS that he adamantly denies.

These common themes underlie the prosecutions:

1. Mothers are rarely tried for SBS, but fathers, boyfriends and babysitters frequently are. Prosecutors exploit juries’ prejudices.

2. Possible natural causes of death by infants are ignored. As in the fourth story below, prosecutors take the view that the defendant must be guilty because no one else could have done it.

3. The “confessions” to shaking are usually descriptions of an attempt to revive the infant, or merely routine jostling (“bouncing”) of a baby. Sometimes the confessors speak poor English.

4. Children’s hospitals, which rely on child abuse funding, seem to allege SBS more often and more quickly than other hospitals.

Fresno Bee (California) December 3, 2004, Friday, B1

Madrigal Guilty In Death Of Daughter

Charles McCarthy THE FRESNO BEE

A Madera County jury found Hugo Madrigal guilty Thursday of assault resulting in the death of his infant daughter, Mariah.

With one day of deliberation after a trial that included testimony about baby shaking and police coercion of confessions, jurors rejected charges of second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter against Madrigal.

Madera County District Attorney Ernest LiCalsi said after the verdict that Madrigal could get a maximum sentence of 25 years to life in prison. The maximum for second-degree murder is 15 years to life. Sentencing is set for Dec. 30.

“I’m just glad that my baby’s finally got justice,” Mariah’s mother, Marcella Salinas, 23, said outside the courtroom. “I hurt for his [Madrigal’s] family.”

Madrigal, then 25, was arrested in May 2001 after doctors at Children’s Hospital Central California took Mariah off life support. The child would have been 4-months-old and two days when she was pronounced dead.

Detectives said that Madrigal told them that he shook the baby for about 10 minutes because she was crying. Madrigal had been baby-sitting the morning of May 12, 2001, when paramedics were called to the northeast Madera apartment that Madrigal shared with Salinas.

In his closing argument Wednesday, Madrigal’s lawyer, Eric H. Schweitzer of Fresno, reviewed testimony of Richard Ofshe, a sociologist from the University of California at Berkeley. Ofshe testified that police manipulate suspects to get confessions.

Another expert witness for the defense, John Plunkett, a Minnesota-based forensic pathologist, insisted that blunt force injuries, not shaking, caused Mariah’s death.

Shaken baby syndrome is an unscientific theory; it’s rational to conclude that the child died from injuries suffered a few days earlier in an accidental fall from her car-carrier to a parking lot pavement, Schweitzer argued.

Madera County Deputy District Attorney D. Jones contended that Madrigal shook Mariah because she wouldn’t stop crying.

The reporter can be reached at cmccarthy@fresnobee.com or (559) 675-6804.