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Arkansas Judge on Trial for Hot Car Death Calls Forgotten Baby Expert Witness

An Arkansas judge accused of negligent homicide for the hot car death of his infant son has called a neuroscience expert witness to testify about “forgotten baby syndrome.” The expert witness accompanied emotional testimony from several of the judge’s family members in an effort to convince jurors that he was not negligent of his child, but instead suffered from a momentary loss of memory explained by a neurological syndrome.

Arkansas Judge Charged with Negligent Homicide

Judge Wade Naramore of Garland County, Arkansas is on trial for negligent homicide for the death of his 18-month-old son, Thomas, who died after being left in a hot car in July 2015. Naramore left Thomas in the car for several hours after failing to take him to day care, and the infant died with an internal body temperature of 107 degrees. After investigating the incident, prosecutors arrested Naramore and charged him with negligent homicide, arguing that the defendant “should have been aware” of the risk of leaving his son in the car, and his failure to recognize that risk was a criminal deviation from the care that a reasonable person would have taken.

Defense attorneys for Naramore have focused their argument on an additional element of negligence that prosecutors have not included: blameworthiness. According to Naramore’s defense team, negligence is more than just a failure to perceive a risk, but also requires evidence that the defendant was at fault for consciously creating the risk. The defense has argued that prosecutors must prove a deliberate act or conduct contributed to Thomas’s death, and have focused their case on showing jurors that Judge Naramore suffered from a neurological memory lapse which made him unaware that his infant son was left in the hot car.

Calling the incident a “tragic accident” which does not meet the threshold of criminal negligence, Naramore’s attorneys called a nationally renowned neuroscientist to explain the concept of “forgotten baby syndrome” to jurors.

Expert Witness Explains Forgotten Baby Syndrome

Attorneys for Wade Naramore called David Diamond, Ph.D to take the stand and explain a theory he uses to explain the loss of awareness of children in cars. Dr. Diamond, a neuroscience expert at the University of South Florida, calls his theory Forgotten Baby Syndrome, and argues there are several factors which cause an otherwise normal and loving parent to temporarily forget that they have a child in the car with them. Dr. Diamond’s expert testimony distinguishes Forgotten Baby Syndrome from standard child abuse or negligence by categorizing it as a neurological condition creating holes in human memory – which can be faulty and frail.

According to Dr. Diamond, when parents depart from their standard routine, and suffer from sleep deprivation and high stress situations. During his testimony, Dr. Diamond told jurors that Naramore’s case was consistent with the causes of Forgotten Baby Syndrome. On the day of Thomas’s death, the defendant dressed and readied the baby — usually something his wife did — and had an unusual breakfast at McDonald’s instead of his regular banana. Additionally, Naramore was having trouble sleeping at the time, going so far as to take pills to help the process. Dr. Diamond’s day-long testimony explained that the defendant may not have been negligent, but was instead suffering from the temporary neurological condition which caused him to forget about his infant son.

Forgotten Baby Syndrome in Hot Car Trials

This is not the first time that Dr. Diamond has testified about Forgotten Baby Syndrome during a negligent homicide trial of a parent who forgot a baby inside of a hot car. Last year, Diamond testified in the trial of El Paso teacher Wakesha Ives, whose daughter died after being left in a hot car during the school day. Although Ives was found guilty in that trial, she received a suspended prison sentence and probation.

Forgotten Baby Syndrome, like many syndromes, may be met with skepticism by jurors who are unable to believe that any parent could simply, and without control, forget a child inside of a car. With the occurrence of the condition uncommon, defense attorneys who call Dr. Diamond as a forgotten baby expert witness likely have an uphill battle to climb regardless of the empirical soundness of the expert’s research and theoretical conclusions. Wade Naramore’s trial will likely conclude next week with a verdict expected shortly.

Mother Convicted for Leaving Infant in a Hot Car uses Psychology Expert Witness

An El Paso woman was recently convicted of criminally negligent homicide for the 2013 death of her infant daughter who was left in a hot car for 8 hours.  Jurors issued the guilty verdict despite hearing testimony from a psychiatrist expert witness who explained that the defendant suffered from “forgotten baby syndrome” which was presented as a condition that causes parents to leave their kids in cars unintentionally.

Texas Woman Charged with Death of Infant Left in Car

In May 2013 Wakesha Ives returned to her car after a long day teaching at an El Paso middle school to find that her 5-month-old daughter Janay Aliah Ives had spent the entire day locked inside the hot car.  Despite frantic efforts by school staff and paramedics to revive the baby at the scene, Janay was taken to a local medical center and pronounced dead with an internal temperature of 105 degrees.  Janay died of environmental heat exposure suffered due to being confined in her mother’s vehicle for an entire day, and Wakesha was subsequently arrested and charged with criminally negligent homicide for leaving her infant in her car while she was at work.

Throughout the investigation and trial Wakesha maintained that she mistakenly believed that she had dropped Janay off at day care prior to arriving at the school for work.  During her trial, a tearful Wakesha took the stand to tell jurors that she was devastated by her daughter’s death, and loved Janay as any mother would.  Wakesha explained that she was suffering from memory lapses due to her blood pressure medicine and on the day in question forgot that she had not dropped Janay off at day care like she typically did.

Wakesha’s attorneys told jurors that the defendant was experiencing significant levels of stress at her job and was suffering from chest pains, light-headedness, and memory loss because of high blood pressure medication that she was taking at the time.  In an effort to further demonstrate that Ives was not criminally culpable for her daughter’s death, the defense presented testimony from a psychology expert witness who explained that Wakesha showed signs of Forgotten Baby Syndrome which could have explained her inattentiveness to Janay.

Expert Witness Explains Forgotten Baby Syndrome

Attorneys for Wakesha Ives called to the stand Dr. David Diamond, an expert witness specializing in neuroscience and memory at the University of Florida, who discussed a condition he called Forgotten Baby Syndrome.  Dr. Diamond told jurors that, “Forgotten Baby Syndrome is when normal, attentive, loving parents forget their kids in the car,” and can be distinguished from cases of neglect or abuse when parents are known to be slow, sluggish, or suffering from memory loss in the time prior to the incident.

Dr. Diamond’s expert testimony explained that because our memories are frail and prone to easy lapses, simple factors like a break in normal routine or a series of unusual events could lead a parent to overlook the fact that their child was left behind in a hot car.  According to Ives’s husband, she had not slept well the night before, and that he had placed the baby bag in back seat that morning rather than its usual spot in the front of the car.  Dr. Diamond explained that this seemingly innocent break in routine could trigger Forgotten Baby Syndrome, suggesting that Ives forgot about her daughter and was not acting negligently or maliciously by leaving Janay in the car.

Jury Convicts Texas Mother for Death of Infant Daughter Left in Hot Car

Despite emotional testimony from Wakesha Ives and analytical expert witness testimony about Forgotten Baby Syndrome by Dr. Diamond, the jury of 10 women and 4 men found the defendant guilty of criminally negligent homicide for Janay’s death.  The jury acquitted Ives of the more serious charge recklessness causing serious bodily harm due to omission – which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years – suggesting that jurors put some degree of stock into the defendant’s case and her expert witness’s contributions.

Ives will return to court in early October for a sentencing hearing, and faces up to two years in jail for her conviction.  Dr. Diamond’s expert witness testimony on Forgotten Baby Syndrome may not have been fully successful, but it seems that jurors incorporated his position into their decision by selecting the lesser available charge.  Forgotten Baby Syndrome is relatively unheralded in the legal community, but with the attention it has received in the Ives case more defendants may look for experts like Dr. Diamond who provide explanation why parents would leave infants unattended in hot cars.