A child abuse expert has offered testimony in the trial of a California man who is charged with beating his 6-week-old daughter to death.
On November 12, 2012, emergency responders reported to a Visalia home for reports of a baby who was not breathing. The 6-week old baby girl was covered in bruises and had fractured ribs and legs. Peyton Rowe was rushed to Kaweah Delta Medical Center. The doctors said that Peyton had to be resuscitated by paramedics on her way to the hospital. Peyton died at the hospital less than an hour later.
Peyton’s parents were arrested in connection with her death. Peyton’s mother, Courtney Rowe, pleaded guilty to felony child abuse with an allegation of willful harm or injury causing death. Peyton’s father, 28-year-old Aaron Rowe, was charged with murder and proceeded to trial. Rowe faces the death penalty if convicted.
At trial, Rowe’s defense attorneys argued that Peyton’s death was an accident. Rowe claims that he slipped while holding his daughter. The Tulare County Prosecutor Brenda Broker told the jurors, “The evidence will prove that Peyton was anything but daddy’s little girl. . . . Peyton throughout her short life had been continuously physically abused, ultimately tortured, and then intentionally murdered by her father who was a man with a propensity for violence.”
The prosecution called Dr. Frederic Bruhn to testify as an expert on child abuse. Dr. Bruhn has seen more than 1,000 children who suffered from some form of abuse. In preparation for his testimony, Bruhn reviewed Peyton’s X-rays and her autopsy report. Peyton’s autopsy revealed that she died from blunt force trauma to the head and her X-rays showed both fresh fractures and old breaks.
Dr. Bruhn testified about the injuries that doctors found on Peyton when she arrived at the hospital. Bruhn labeled Peyton’s injuries “suspicious.” Bruhn said, “Her rib fractures led doctors at [Kaweah Delta Medical Center] to suspect abusive injuries.” Bruhn commented that the amount of fractures to Peyton’s ribs and back of rib cage are “rarely seen and highly correlates to abusive injuries in children. . . . The number [of fractured ribs] suggest abusive injury.”
Dr. Bruhn described bruising to Peyton’s cheek and ear as another “red flag.” Bruhn said, “Children as young as Peyton don’t do much. . . . If they don’t move they don’t bruise.” Bruhn said that facial bruises on children Peyton’s age are rarely accidental. Peyton’s left inner thigh was also bruised. According to Bruhn, the pattern of the bruises on Peyton’s body was consistent with fingers gripping.
Dr. Bruhn opined that Peyton suffered broken ribs as a result of shaking and squeezing around her chest and that the fractures to her leg and arm could not have been caused by a fall. He said, “You have the head injuries, you have the optic nerve injuries, you have the skeletal injuries, you have the bruising injuries. . . . Once you get to that amount of injuries, you can’t explain it all by one simple fall.”
The defense countered with medical experts who testified that Peyton may have suffered from a bone disease. They concluded that the evidence is consistent with Rowe’s statement that he fell with Peyton in his arms days, causing her death.