Prominent California child abuse expert and pediatrician, Dr. Jess Diamond, has died at 100 years old.
Dr. Jess Diamond was born in the Bronx, New York on September 18, 1918 to a restaurateur and apartment manager. Diamond grew up in New York and became interested in medicine because of his uncle, who worked as a doctor with a family practice. Diamond became an Army captain assigned to the Medical Corps during World War II. Dr. Diamond worked as a pediatrician at hospitals in New York and Illinois. In 1980, he moved to Bakersfield, California where he became the chair of Kern Medical Center’s Department of Pediatrics.
Prominent Child Abuse Expert
Dr. Diamond became well-known in the community as a child abuse expert and served as a witness for the Kern County District Attorney’s Office on hundreds of cases. His colleagues knew him for his tireless work ethic.
Kern County District Attorney Lisa Green used Dr. Diamond as an expert witness in many child sexual abuse cases in the 1980s and 1990s. She said, “In Kern County, there really weren’t any other people who had the qualifications he had… He was a great man, and a great witness, and he really had a passion for kids.” Green also complimented Dr. Diamond on his accessibility. She said, “Doctors can be a little difficult to get in touch with… Dr. Diamond just made himself so accessible.”
False Evidence Testimony
Dr. Diamond also showed that he was willing to reevaluate past decisions that he made. Dr. Diamond testified for the prosecution in the trial of Vicente Figueroa Benavides, who was sentenced to death in 1991 for allegedly sexually assaulting and killing 21-month-old Consuelo Verdugo.
After receiving the girl’s medical records, Dr. Diamond changed his mind and recanted his testimony. In 2012, Diamond wrote in a habeas corpus petition, “I do not believe Mr. Benavides received a fair trial and I provide this declaration in the hope that the current legal proceedings will correct this injustice.” Dr. Diamond said, “After reviewing the medical records and photographs that I should have been provided in 1993, I am convinced that this case presents a tremendous failing of the criminal justice system.” Due in part to Dr. Diamond’s testimony, the California Supreme Court overturned the charges against Benavides, who was freed after serving 26 years on death row.
Robert Carbone, the district attorney who originally prosecuted the case, said that he didn’t understand why Dr. Diamond changed his mind, but that he respected the doctor’s opinion. “Most of what I learned about prosecuting child molestation or other sexual assault cases came from Dr. Diamond. … He was our source.”
Experts now say that the little girl was likely never assaulted and was probably run over by a car. Dr. Astrid Heger, one of the top child abuse experts in the country, said that the original autopsy finding, that the child died of sex abuse “… is so unlikely to the point of being absurd.”
Dr. Diamond retired in June 1999, at age 81, but continued to work as a volunteer. He is survived by his wife Ann, three children, six grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.