In a difficult and emotionally wrenching case, Nicholson Goetz & Otis attorneys Paisley Hoffman and Nathan Otis secured a not-guilty verdict on behalf of a young father who stood accused of causing the death of his infant.
The case arose when our client’s 5-month-old baby experienced respiratory distress at home. The infant was rushed to the hospital. After several days in the hospital, the parents decided to end life support.
A Tragedy Turns into an Investigation
When the infant was examined, a CT scan showed subdural hemorrhage – which, in combination with the child’s lack of neurological function, led doctors to suspect abuse. After additional investigation, authorities suspected that the infant was the victim of shaken baby syndrome (SBS) or abusive head trauma (AHT) as a cause of the child’s fatal injuries. Based on the autopsy findings and the determinations of the child abuse pediatrician, our client was charged with first-degree reckless homicide.
A Controversial Diagnosis – Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS)/Abusive Head Trauma (AHT)
The accusation against our client hinged on a diagnosis of Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS) or Abusive Head Trauma (AHT). Most people are taught that it is bad to shake a baby and likely assume that is because sound scientific evidence supports that advice. However, the studies used by prosecutors to support these charges are deeply flawed.
To date, no studies have been conducted that show that humans can cause the injuries associated with SBS/AHT by shaking alone. The studies that prosecutors rely on are circular and assume the diagnosis is valid to support their conclusions. In many cases, doctors stop looking for medical explanations or accidental explanations for a baby’s injuries if they have the triad – subdural hemorrhage, brain swelling (encephalopathy), and retinal hemorrhages.
A Medical Explanation
In our case, what the initial findings did not address is that this baby was not an otherwise healthy child. The baby had numerous illnesses in his short life. At the time he passed away, he had at least three infections.
The medical examiner employed by the county did not complete sufficient testing to identify infections. It was not until our office retained an expert who knew to look for infections that a serious infection was identified in the baby’s brain. This infection, combined with the others, caused the baby to have sepsis – which can be fatal when untreated.
A Strong Defense
As is often the case in criminal litigation involving medical issues, the case turned on the testimony of experts. The State’s experts testified that the constellation of injuries the child presented with necessarily indicated abuse. With our team’s knowledge of the underlying studies and the medical records, we were able to significantly undermine the State’s theory.
During the defense case, our expert, a pathologist, explained the errors made by the State’s experts and the information that they ignored. She also testified about finding infections in the brain which contributed to the baby developing sepsis and ultimately passing away. Our team worked diligently with this expert to understand the science and medicine.
While this case relied heavily on experts, our client’s care and devotion to his children was a huge factor for the jury to consider. We spent time with our client and learned those details to help him explain what happened to the jury. Our relationship with our client allowed us to present the strongest defense possible.
Vindication for a Grieving Father
After a contentious trial, the jury came back after just 70 minutes – not guilty. After such a tragedy, the client was finally given the opportunity to share his story.
Call Us Today to Schedule a Free Case Evaluation with a Madison Criminal Defense Lawyer
If you have been accused of a crime of causing injuries or death to an infant, you need attorneys who understand the complex scientific and medical controversies surrounding Shaken Baby Syndrome/Abusive Head Trauma. Our skilled attorneys are committed to protecting your rights and making sure that overzealous prosecutors do not harm your freedom or your future. To schedule a free consultation with a member of our team, call our office today or contact us online.