Tag Archives: shaken baby syndrome

Gavel and Stethoscope on Reflective Table

New York Case Questions Years of Shaken Baby Expert Testimony

A New York appellate court recently called years of expert witness testimony on shaken baby syndrome into question by overturning a 2001 conviction due to insufficient scientific support for evidence supporting the prosecution’s case. Shaken baby syndrome prosecutions rely on expert witness testimony due to the medical science involved in connecting the victim’s injuries with the defendant’s actions, however, recent advances in shaken baby research suggest techniques experts have used for years may not be reliable.

New York Woman Challenges Shaken Baby Conviction

Rene Bailey was convicted of causing the death of a 2 ½-year-old child at her daycare after the child suffered a serious head injury while in her home. Prosecutors charged Rene with second-degree murder, and she earned a conviction on the strength of medical expert witnesses who told jurors that the child’s injuries were the result of being shaken. Rene maintained her innocence, arguing that the young girl suffered an unfortunate fall which caused the injuries. However, shaken baby expert witnesses rebutted the defense’s claim by saying such a scenario was impossible.

Bailey was convicted of the second-degree murder charge and has been serving her sentence ever since. However, early in 2014 attorneys specializing in appealing shaken baby convictions took interest in her case. Bailey’s new attorney believed that the child had suffered from a serious fall, and argued that the shaken baby expert testimony presented fifteen years ago has since been refuted by advances in medical science research. According to Bailey’s new defense team, headed by Adele Bernhard, if the evidence available now had been presented during the 2001 trial, Rene would not have been convicted.

New York Appellate Court Overturns Shaken Baby Conviction

Adele Bernhard and the rest of Bailey’s legal team focused their appeal on challenging established forensic expert testimony with new developments in medical science which question the certainty of shaken baby expert testimony that has been used since the 1970s. According to Bernhard, alternative explanations for the type of injuries suffered by the little girl in Rene Bailey’s murder case were too easily dismissed by prosecution expert witnesses during the 2001 trial, and current experts in forensic medicine have since acknowledged that children can suffer serious brain injury by falling.

In a surprising ruling, Judge James Piampiano agreed with Bernhard and overturned Bailey’s conviction by finding, “There has been a compelling and consequential shift in mainstream medical opinion since the time of the defendant’s trial.” On appeal by prosecutors, a four-judge panel of New York’s Fourth Department Appellate Division of State Supreme Court agreed with Piampiano’s ruling. The New York appellate court found that Bailey should be freed due to new scientific findings, writing, “Had this evidence been presented at trial, the verdict would probably have been different.”

Following the appellate rulings in her favor, Rene Bailey has been released from prison, and the long term future of shaken baby syndrome prosecutions in New York is uncertain.

Prosecution of New York Shaken Baby Cases Uncertain

In the process of overturning Rene Bailey’s conviction, the New York appellate court called years of expert witness testimony on shaken baby syndrome into question. For years, medical experts have connected three specific injuries — bleeding in the retinas, bleeding in tissue surrounding the brain, and swelling of the brain — to shaken baby syndrome, mostly in cases where there is not any other available evidence. Since the 1970s, medical experts have used the combination of these three injuries to eliminate all other possible sources of injury other than shaken baby, giving prosecutors strong evidence against defendants accused of shaking infants and toddlers.

Recently, however, forensic medical experts have argued that this combination of injuries can occur due to falls, and even question whether shaking a baby is sufficient to cause fatal injury without other head trauma. In light of new medical evidence, attorneys across the country are calling years of shaken baby expert testimony into question, suggesting that prosecutors will not have as clear a path to conviction in this type of case in the future.

Michigan Criminal Trials Highlight Expert Dispute over Shaken Baby Syndrome

Michigan Criminal Trials Highlight Expert Dispute over Shaken Baby Syndrome

Two Michigan men accused of killing infants have consulted expert witnesses to dispute allegations that the children died from Shaken Baby Syndrome. The cases, which have gone to trial, will serve as a critique of Shaken Baby Syndrome with both sides presenting experts to debate not only whether or not the condition explains the deaths, but whether or not it is valid given inconsistent results from medical science.

Michigan Men Accused in Shaken Baby Deaths

Leo Ackley and Anthony Ball have both been charged with felony murder and first-degree child abuse for deaths of their girlfriends’ young daughters. Prosecutors filing charges against both men have argued that there is sufficient evidence in each case to convict them based on Shaken Baby Syndrome — a medical condition caused by violent shaking which has been linked to death in infants and toddlers. According to police investigators and prosecutors, both children showed signs of being shaken and were home alone with the defendants at the time they suffered their injuries. Both men have argued that the children suffered a separate fatal injury, and claim that they did not take violent action against the children.

Ackley was found guilty on both charges after a 2012 trial, however, his conviction was overturned in 2015 when the Michigan Supreme Court found that his attorney erred by not calling a medical expert witness to dispute the child’s cause of death. Both Ackley and Ball recently asked the Michigan Supreme Court to delay their murder trials while experts dispute the validity of using evidence of injuries commonly associated with Shaken Baby Syndrome against them. However, the Court denied the request and allowed both trials to proceed.

Last week, Ackley was convicted a second time and will be sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole during a sentencing hearing later this month. His attorneys have already promised an appeal. Ball’s trial is still ongoing, and will likely come to a conclusion within a week or two.

Experts Debate Shaken Baby Abuse during Michigan Trial

During his second trial, Ackley’s attorneys called several medical expert witnesses to offer pointed attacks on the conclusions by prosecution doctors who contend the victim’s injuries were the result of child abuse. According to defense expert witness Dr. Ljabisa Dragovic, the Oakland County Medical Examiner, the toddler could have been injured by a fall off a trampoline which occurred a few days before her death. Dr. Dragovic disputed the prosecution’s conclusion that child abuse caused the injuries, telling jurors that the injuries suffered were not conclusively linked to shaken baby syndrome.

Prosecutors in the case countered that the case was not specifically about shaken baby syndrome, but was instead focused on abusive head trauma and that their medical experts provided sufficient evidence connecting the defendant to the victim’s injuries. According to the prosecution’s medical expert, the brain samples of the toddler victim indicated she suffered from a head injury caused by significant force suffered while she was alone with the defendant. Further, according to the prosecution expert, the child showed other troubling signs, including bruising consistent with child abuse and a change in eating behavior.

Ultimately the jury was convinced that Ackley caused the injuries to the child victim and found him guilty for a second time, however, the lingering questions about the use of evidence of shaken baby syndrome — even if it is termed abusive head trauma — serves as a reminder that experts across the country are disputing a condition which has long been accepted in American criminal trials.

Michigan Cases Highlight Criticism of Shaken Baby Syndrome

Medical expert witnesses who specialize in child abuse and child injuries have divided on the existence of shaken baby syndrome. According to the Washington Post, there have been almost 2,000 cases in the United States which were built on evidence of abusive shaking. Of those cases, 213 resulted in acquittals or overturned convictions due to misdiagnosed shaken baby syndrome, leading many experts in the medical community to question the validity of the diagnosis. Research designed to challenge the conclusions of shaken baby syndrome has intensified, and legal agencies have received funding to challenge convictions based on the diagnosis.

On the other side, several medical experts maintain that shaken baby syndrome, which they argue should be called abusive head trauma instead, is a real medical condition which most physicians support. Proponents of shaken baby syndrome have criticized reports which call the condition into question, and argue that medical science supports a connection between shaking and specific head trauma injuries that prosecutors can use to earn abuse and murder convictions. Despite support for shaken baby syndrome causing abusive head trauma, experts continue to question its validity and use during criminal trials.

Boston Nanny Freed After Expert Witness Report Disputes Cause of Infant’s Death

An Irish woman in Boston who was accused of causing the death of a child under her care earned relief last week when prosecutors dropped all charges against her due to medical expert witness reports that cast doubt on the infant’s cause of death.  Although the child’s death was initially ruled a homicide by medical examiners, expert witness analysis cast sufficient doubt into the cause of death determination that the defendant was released from custody and cleared of wrongdoing.

Irish Nanny Jailed for Causing Death of Infant

Aisling Brady McCarthy, now 37, was arrested in January, 2013 for allegedly causing the death of a one-year-old Rehma Sabir who was under her care.  McCarthy, an Irish national living in the US, was the girl’s nanny when the child died of apparent head injuries shortly after her 1st birthday.  According to prosecutors, the girl suffered from hemorrhaging and swelling of the brain and had evidence of multiple bone fractures.  Police also found blood stained baby wipes, blankets, and pillows in the child’s bedroom during the course of their investigation.

McCarthy was jailed immediately after her arrest, and has spent the past two years behind bars awaiting trial for murder.  Shortly after the investigation into Sabir’s death, a Massachusetts medical examiner examined the evidence and ruled the child was a victim of homicide.  According to the examiner, Sabir showed signs of shaken baby syndrome – which pointed police and prosecutors to her nanny.  McCarthy was arrested and formally charged with murder despite her insistence of innocence.

During the past two years, attorneys for McCarthy have worked to gather expert witness analysis of Sabir’s death in an effort to convince prosecutors that the infant suffered from severe medical complications that suggest the cause of death was accidental rather than intentional. 

Prosecutors Drop Case against Boston Nanny after Reviewing Expert Witness Reports

After more than two years of investigation, the office of the Massachusetts medical examiner was provided with expert witness reports submitted by medical experts who reviewed Sabir’s death and cast doubt on the conclusion that the child died by the defendant’s actions.  According to the expert witness report, Rehma Sabir had a history of bruising and was prone to easy bleeding when exposed even to relatively minor trauma.  The expert medical report submitted to prosecutors and the state examiner suggested the child may have had an undiagnosed disorder which caused her death.

After reviewing the expert reports, the medical examiner words were included in the prosecutors statement to the press, “Given these uncertainties, I am no longer convinced that the subdural hemorrhage in this case could only have been caused by abusive/inflicted head trauma, and I can no longer rule the manner of death as a homicide … I believe that enough evidence has been presented to raise the possibility that the bleeding could have been related to an accidental injury in a child with a bleeding risk or possibly could have even been a result of an undefined natural disease.”

Given the medical examiner’s change of opinion on Rehma Sabir’s death, state prosecutors dropped all charges against Aisling McCarthy.