View Full Version : Re: baby-shaking

Derek Hendry (university Of California)
10-14-1996, 03:49 AM
Dear Colleagues,
The case that prompted the original post has been closed, if not resolved,
after two trials.
In the first trial, the Prosecutions's theory was that the Defendant had
shaken the baby. The Prosecution expert testified that the injuries must have
been caused by shaking, since the baby would have had to dropped from 10 feet
or more to cause such injuries. Two important issues were the estimation of
the time of the injury (time frame) and the estimation of the level of
violence of the event necessary to produce the injury (severity level). The
Defense expert expanded the time frame (including more suspects) and reduced
the severity level (thereby making mere accident a possibility).
The jury hung 6-6.
By the time of the second trial, the Prosecution had adopted the theory that
the traumatic event producing brain damage was the throwing of the baby onto
a relatively soft surface, such as a bed. In this second trial, the jury hung
11-1 for acquittal. The DA declined to seek a new trial and the charges were
Jurors reported that they listened carefully to the expert testimony, but
were also strongly influenced by character evidence.
There is, as perhaps is normal in any such case, a lot of complex
circumstances that tended to raise "reasonable doubt". For example, the baby
bore signs of previous injuries whose estimated time of origin was consistent
with the infliction of these injuries by any one of three persons, the same
three persons who might have caused the later injury. Uncertainty about the
proximate cause of brain damage gave more prominence to the time-frame
evidence, which contained its own contradictions.
A most interesting aspect is the Prosecution's abandonment of the shaking
theory from the first to the second trial. In that period of 6-7 months an
expert new to the case referred to data that showed that shaking, by itself,
cannot cause the severe injuries suffered by the baby. The Prosecution was
able to accommodate two very different accounts of the cause of the child's
brain damage.
Responses to my original post were very helpful in raising questions about
the adequacy of the Prosecution's theory(ies) of the case. The technical
questions that I raised are still open. It is not possible (one hopes) that
any experimental data of these effects could ever be obtained. Some posts
indicated that this is a fruitful area for simulation studies.

Derek Hendry