by Health Impact News/MedicalKidnap.com Staff
In 2014, Health Impact News brought you a story about a Jonesborough, Tennessee, couple Joe and Charlotte Whitaker, who were accused of Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS). The local police charged the couple following a 911 call from Joe Whitaker on August 15, 2013, when their son, Jaden, became unresponsive.
Jaden was diagnosed with the controversial Shaken Baby Syndrome by a “child abuse specialist,” Dr. Mary Palmer of the University of Knoxville Medical Center. In an update to this tragedy, the formerly happy family of five has lost everything. The couple lost their son to the state in 2014, and recently Charlotte lost her husband, home, and job. Joe Whitaker is now in jail for a crime his family says he did not commit.
Read the original article here:
On January 24, 2017, Joe Whitaker was convicted of shaking his son, Jaden, and sentenced on February 21, 2017, to 15 years in prison. This was in spite of the fact that all across the country scientific research has led medical and legal experts to question the SBS diagnosis and wrongfully convicted parents and caregivers are being exonerated. In states other than Tennessee, judges are retrying cases and in many situations, attorneys are being trained to properly represent clients who may be falsely accused of SBS. See:
Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Opens the Legal Door to Retry All Shaken Baby Syndrome Convictions
In her paper, “The Next Innocence Project: Shaken Baby Syndrome and the Criminal Courts,” Northwestern Law Professor and author Deborah Tuerkheimer explains:
Every year in this country, hundreds of people are convicted of having shaken a baby, most often to death. In a prosecution paradigm without precedent, expert medical testimony is used to establish that a crime occurred, that the defendant caused the infant’s death by shaking, and that the shaking was sufficiently forceful to constitute depraved indifference to human life. Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS) is, in essence, a medical diagnosis of murder, one based solely on the presence of a diagnostic triad: retinal bleeding, bleeding in the protective layer of the brain, and brain swelling.
In the numerous shaken baby syndrome cases that have been covered by Health Impact News, we have seen that this “triad” has been used by Child Abuse Specialists and other doctors to accuse parents of abuse, even when there are no other symptoms and in the absence of any history of abuse or violence by the parents. In many of these cases, parents and primary caregivers or family doctors are not even consulted. Tuerkheimer continues:
New scientific research has cast doubt on the forensic significance of this triad (used to diagnose SBS), thereby undermining the foundations of thousands of SBS convictions. Outside the United States, this scientific evolution has prompted systemic reevaluations of the prosecutorial paradigm. In contrast, our criminal justice system has failed to absorb the latest scientific knowledge.
See more on the new Child Abuse Specialist Pediatric subspecialty:
Insufficient Evidence that the Triad of Symptoms are Caused by Shaking
Joe Whitaker was accused, arrested, and convicted based on the triad of symptoms used by some medical professionals. The science upon which the diagnosis of shaken baby syndrome rests is being challenged by a growing number of medical experts.
Joe and Charlotte Whitaker have maintained that something else is wrong with their son, Jaden. In a recent interview, Charlotte declared that the medical professionals involved with diagnosing Jaden with SBS never considered or tested for alternate causes. Those medical professionals have a responsibility to rule out other causes of the triad of symptoms, but in the Whitakers’ case, they allegedly failed to do so.
Both Joe and Charlotte reported that Jaden had two accidental short-distance falls within weeks of August 15, 2013. Charlotte stated that the prosecution’s medical experts testified in the trial that short-distance falls could not cause the triad of symptoms.
On the contrary, scientific research shows that short-distance falls can indeed cause the triad of symptoms used to diagnose SBS. The state utilized the triad to convict Joe Whitaker and, further, allegedly did not investigate the information about Jaden’s falls or alternate medical problems presented by the defendant’s medical experts.
During Whitaker’s sentencing, Judge Rice quoted the prosecution’s medical experts and stated that it would take a fall from at least 30 feet to cause Jaden’s injuries.
However, there is evidence in the medical research that challenges that theory, evidence which was ignored in the Whitakers’ case. In 2001, Minnesota pathologist Dr. John Plunkett conducted a study based on primary source data in which he concluded that short-distance falls are capable of producing the symptoms identified as shaken-baby syndrome.
Plunkett explains in an interview reported by USA Today:
It’s clear that low velocity, even a 2- or 3-foot fall can cause serious and fatal brain injury. If people had paid attention to the science, it would not have been a mystery.
Judge Refuses to Allow Defense Medical Expert Testimony
A Daubert Hearing was held for the Whitaker trial in August 2015. Daubert Hearing is an evaluation by a trial judge on the admissibility of defined “expert,” or scientific and technical testimony and evidence. In the hearing, Assistant District Attorney, Erin McArdle, objected to the testimony of defense medical expert, forensic pathologist Dr. R.K. Wright.
To Charlotte’s disbelief, Judge Lisa Rice upheld the objection. Defense Attorney David Robins informed Charlotte that both Assistant D.A. McArdle and Judge Rice decided that a forensic pathologist would not be appropriate because Jaden was still alive.
Defense Experts – Jaden Not Abused, Had Stroke
Forensic Pathologist Dr. Wright states in his report which was not allowed into evidence:
Jaden Whitaker is neither an abused or neglected child as alleged in the presentment. …He suffered a stroke. Strokes come in two flavors – ischemic, which he had and hemorrhagic which he did not have as the blood would have been seen in the brain in the CT and MRI. I have appended Nelson’s chapter on ischemic stroke. … The retinal, subarachnoid and subdural hemorrhage are the result of Jaden’s successful resuscitation. Although historically (1972 – 2011) considered to be diagnostic of Shaken Baby, recent research has disproved this. Jaden seems to only have a scant subdural with no impact injury. That is a re-perfusion change.
Charlotte feels that, without the testimony of Dr. Wright, who planned to testify in person, Joe did not get a fair trial.
Additionally, Judge Rice did not allow the remaining two experts, Dr. Julie Mack and Dr. Charles Hyman, to testify via live video. Defense Attorney David Robbins told Charlotte that Judge Rice also upheld the prosecution’s objections to deleting portions of the medical experts’ pre-recorded testimony.
Defense medical expert, Dr. Julie Mack, is affiliated with Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. She received her medical degree from Harvard Medical School and has been in practice for more than 20 years. Mack earned her fellowship in pediatric radiology from Children’s Medical Center in Dallas, Texas. Dr. Mack is certified by the American Board of Radiology with an added certificate in pediatric radiology.
These qualifications were challenged in court by Assistant D.A. McArdle, who, according to Charlotte, claimed erroneously several times that Dr. Mack only specializes in mammograms. Charlotte believes this was an attempt by the prosecution to minimize defense medical expert witnesses.
Where They Are Now, and How You Can Help
The Whitakers will continue to fight for their family. On May 4, they are filing a motion for a new trial. If that is not successful, they plan to appeal. They are praying for justice and for Joe to be set free.
Meanwhile, he sits in jail and their son Jaden has been adopted out. The termination of their parental rights happened very quickly, within just a few months, after Jaden was diagnosed by the Child Abuse Expert as having Shaken Baby Syndrome. There is ample evidence that something else was going on and that the science behind Shaken Baby Syndrome is very flawed, but that evidence was apparently ignored by the court and by Child Protective Services.
A Facebook page has been set up in support of Joe, called Justice for Joe:
Governor Bill Haslam may be reached at 615-741-2001, or contacted here.
Representative Mathew Hill, House District 7, may be reached at 615-741-2251, or contacted here.
Senator Rusty Crowe, Senate District 3, may be reached at 615-741-2468, or contacted here.
Donate to Families Against Medical Kidnapping to assist Joe and Charlotte Whitaker here.
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