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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.

Convicted Boston Marathon Bomber Turns to Neuroscience Expert Witness in Sentencing Trial

As the sentencing trial for convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev continues, defense attorneys for Tsarnaev called respected neuroscience expert witness in an effort to avoid a death penalty judgment.  Consistent with the defense’s position during the early part of the trial, the expert has been called to provide testimony that minimizes Dzhokhar’s role in planning and executing the attacks.

Prosecutors Point to Unrepentant Behavior

As the sentencing phase of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s trial began, prosecutors attempted to paint the defendant as an unrepentant and willing participant in the Boston Marathon bombing attack.  Tsarnaev was convicted last month on all criminal charges levied against him, including charges of terrorism and conspiracy to deploy weapons of mass destruction against the public.  Prosecutors have alleged throughout the trial that Tsarnaev was equally responsible for the planning and execution of the attacks along with his brother, Tamerlan.

Beyond the evidence used to convict Tsarnaev of the crime, prosecutors have used his recent behavior to show that he remains defiant and without remorse for his actions.  Dzhokhar is responsible for writing a series of notes that prosecutors argue demonstrate his willingness to engage in acts of Islamic terrorism, and was recently photographed flipping a jail cell camera off in anger.  Prosecutors have pointed to the defendant’s activities before, during, and after his trial as signs that he was not unwillingly convinced to take part in the attack by his brother, but instead was an accomplice and equal partner to the crime.

Defense attorneys for Tsarnaev have countered prosecutors by building upon the strategy they employed during trial and calling a neuroscience expert witness to testify that the defendant’s brain was too immature during the planning and execution of the attacks to make him sufficiently culpable as to warrant the death penalty.

Tsarnaev’s Brain Development at Issue in Sentencing

Dr. Jay Giedd, chief of brain imaging at the Child Psychiatry Branch of the National Institute of Mental Health took the stand last week to testify that Dzhokhar’s brain was not fully developed at the time of the attacks.  According to Dr. Giedd, Dzhokhar, who was 19 at the time of the bombing, did not have a fully developed prefrontal cortex, which is the area of the brain responsible for planning, impulse control, and judgment.  Neuroscience research indicates that the prefrontal cortex is not fully developed until the late twenties, and as a result, the defendant’s capacity to control aggression or excitement was weak leaving him vulnerable to suggestive influence.

Dr. Giedd told jurors that teens with underdeveloped prefrontal cortex are unable to adequately process risk vs benefit analysis, and are more likely to accept actions that favor short term rewards with little consideration of long term consequences.  Although Dr. Giedd conceded on cross-examination that some brains develop faster than others, and Dzhokhar had the capacity to comprehend the consequences of his actions, his testimony supported the defense’s case that the defendant was developmentally immature and vulnerable to his brother’s influence.

Use of Brain Development Expert Witnesses Growing

The immature brain strategy employed by using Dr. Giedd as a neuroscience expert witness is not uncommon as defense attorneys across the country have incorporated brain development into serious offense trials.  Advances in neuroscience provide opportunity for neuro expert witnesses to inform jurors about potential brain development issues or defects that can influence judgment, decision-making, and ultimately behavior.  As in the Dzhokhar Tsarnaev case, neuro expert testimony is not always used to exonerate the defendant, but is deployed in an effort to reduce sentencing.

In this case, Tsarnaev’s legal team turned to Dr. Giedd’s expert testimony to lend scientific credence to the point they have hammered home since the high-profile trial began: Dzhokhar committed the crimes of which he was accused, but he lacked the necessary desire and intent to plan and execute a terrorist attack without the influence of his older brother.  Considering Dzhokhar’s brain development and the influence his older brother had over him, defense attorneys have argued that life in prison is the more appropriate sentence rather than death.