The medical examiners testifying in the aggravated manslaughter trial of Michael Marrara offered vastly different explanations for why his son died on March 26, 2012.
Death of Andrew Marrara
On March 26, 2012, Michael Marrara called 911 to report that he found his son blue and non-responsive. Andrew Marrara was pronounced dead a short time later at Englewood Hospital. The postmortem exam found blunt force trauma to the head and nerve damage to the eyes. There were also three posterior healed rib fractures. The official cause of death was ruled “closed head trauma” and categorized as a homicide.
Michael Marrara was charged with aggravated manslaughter, aggravated assault, endangering the welfare of a child and hindering in connection with Andrew’s death. He faces a maximum of 65 years in prison, with up to 46.5 years of parole ineligibility.
At trial, the state is attempting to show that Marrara killed his son because he was frustrated that he would not stop crying. The state argues that Marrara shook his son so hard that the blood vessels burst in his head.
An autopsy showed that Andrew died from blunt force trauma to the head as a victim of homicide. The autopsy was conducted by Dr. Jennifer Swartz, a forensic pathologist, and confirmed by Dr. Frederick DiCarlo and Dr. Lucy Rorke-Adams.
Dr. DiCarlo testified that the forensic tests show that the bruise on Andrew’s lip occurred on the morning of his death and that the blood on the brain was fresh. DiCarlo concluded that Andrew’s injuries were caused by “blunt force,” which “can be due to shaking” or “a punch to the forehead.”
Senior Assistant Prosecutor David V. Calviello asked Rorke-Adams if there was any evidence that the death was natural. Rorke-Adams, who is an expert on child injuries, testified that there was no way that Andrew died of natural causes.
Marrara’s defense team argued that Andrew was a sick child that died of natural causes. They pointed to his 18 visits to the doctor during his 10 weeks of life and state that the hemorrhages found on the brain were not the result of physical abuse; rather, they were due to a medical condition called cerebral venous thrombosis, or CVT, a rare form of stroke triggered by a virus.
The defense team hired acting Bergen County Medical Examiner, Dr. Zhongxue Hua, to review the autopsy. Hua claims that there is microscopic evidence of a virus in Andrew’s system. Hua identified “inclusion bodies,” the microscopic clusters of proteins that are often indicators of a virus. Rorke-Adams acknowledged that inclusion bodies were present in Andrew’s brain tissues, but said that their presence had no significance and that there was no evidence that Andrew suffered from CVT or a blood disorder.
Hua said that Andrew lacked several injuries that are common in shaken baby cases such as retinal hemorrhage, neck injury, and bruising. He said, “You do not have significant trauma, you do not have reasonable evidence of shaking, but you do have a real disease there that could be fatal.”