The University of Michigan's Innocence Clinic, part of the University's law school, has just been awarded $250,000 to fight wrongful shaken baby syndrome convictions. The Associated Press is reporting that the grant came from the Department of Justice. NPR Radio in Michigan reports that attorneys with the Innocence Clinic already helped exonerate one person in a shaken baby syndrome case. In 2010, Julie Baumer was retried and found not guilty of abusing her infant nephew. In 2015, the Michigan Supreme Court unanimously overturned a murder conviction in a shaken baby syndrome case. The court found that Leo Ackley's defense attorney did not properly challenge the conviction with evidence that contradicts the science of shaken baby syndrome, and that the prosecutor produced no witness that Ackley was abusive. The Assistant Director of the Michigan Innocence Clinic, Imran Syed, stated: "So these shaken baby syndrome cases really appear to be in that category of shifting science, where juries at trial were told things that seemed uncontroversial. But really there’s a lot of controversy involved. And really the most important thing, at least from our perspective as lawyers, isn’t who’s right or wrong. It’s did both sides get aired out in trial? Because our [state] supreme court ruled last year that in an SBS case, both sides have the right to present their side of the debate, and let the jury decide who they believe is more credible: was it an accident, or was it intentional abuse? And in the vast majority of these cases that we look at, there are no defense experts. The jury only hears one side of the case."
"I do not think that you can get a fair child abuse trial before a jury anywhere in the country… I do not care how sophisticated or law smart jurors are, when they hear that a child has been abused, a piece of their mind closes up, and this goes for the judge, the jurors, and all of us. …we do not care whether it is the right individual or not. Somebody should be punished for this heinous crime." –Abner Mivka, Former Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals/District of Columbia Circuit Judge Mikva’s assertion, that child abuse might affect jury verdicts, is used to illustrate “generic prejudice.” But it’s not just judges and juries that are prejudiced. Child abuse pediatricians, doctors, their institutions, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the entire system of Child Protective Services (CPS) and law enforcement are all too often guilty of generic prejudice as well. As thousands of innocent families increasingly become subject to heinous accusations of child abuse by pediatricians and doctors, the tragedy of false accusations and convictions is increasing. But the medical and child protection system’s lack of impartiality is just the tip of the iceberg. More shocking are the many ways in which the medical profession and its child abuse pediatric specialty hide stereotyping, arrogance, abuse of authority and twisted “science” when it claims to “diagnose” child abuse – which is in fact a legal allegation, not truly a medical diagnosis. With agonizing slowness, as families’ stories are told, some are finally beginning to look more closely and question the assumptions on which child abuse pediatrics are based.
Date for Execution of Man on Death Row for Shaken Baby Syndrome is Halted as Conviction is Blamed on “Junk Science”
Last week, we reported that Chief Justice Ralph Gants from the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts had ordered a re-trial in the case of Oswelt Millien, a young father, who in 2015 was jailed for 4-5 years for causing permanent injuries to his six-month old daughter, Jahanna. This week yet another case, this time in Texas, has hit the news. On 17th June, 2016, Reuters reported that: "The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Thursday halted the planned June 21 execution of Robert Roberson and sent his case back to trial court. It based its decision on a recent state law that permits legal challenges citing new scientific evidence potentially pointing to wrongful convictions." In 2002, Robert Roberson was convicted for the murder of his two-year old daughter, Nikki Curtis. Although experts at the time had testified that the toddler had died of Shaken baby syndrome--a syndrome defined by brain swelling, bleeding behind the eyes and bleeding on the brain’s surface--Roberson had always denied that he had hurt his daughter and maintained that Nikki’s injuries may have been caused by a fall from her bed or a fever of 104.5 degrees Fahrenheit. (40.3 degrees Centigrade) Reuters continued, by explaining that Shaken baby syndrome can be caused by short falls, other undiagnosed medical conditions, such as blood clotting disorders and latent trauma from a difficult birth. They stated that lawyers had pointed out that it is impossible to shake a child to death without causing serious neck injuries which they said that the child did not have. They concluded that: "Robert Roberson was wrongly convicted of murdering his … daughter based on ‘junk science’ and highly inflammatory sexual-abuse allegations that were false." This is a landmark case and may lead to other innocent prisoners that are awaiting execution to be awarded a reprieve.
Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Opens the Legal Door to Retry All Shaken Baby Syndrome Convictions
As the medical profession continues to debate the merits of "Shaken baby syndrome" (SBS), the American judicial system is increasingly determining that the evidence against SBS is strong enough to prevent convictions in a court of law, where the standard is "reasonable doubt." As Christina England reports, Chief Justice Ralph Gants from the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts just ruled this month that another SBS case in Massachusetts must be re-tried, because evidence contrary to the supposed "science" behind SBS was not presented at the trial. Judge Gants even went beyond just issuing a ruling to provide legal advice to attorneys seeking to represent their clients against SBS claims. So now the question remains: if these parents have had their children removed illegally, and many of these parents have wrongly been convicted and incarcerated, should doctors who are responsible for these injustices be tried in a court of law for their crimes? An important case was heard last year in the Ninth Circuit Court, which ruled that Dr. Claudia Wang, the medical director of UCLA’s Suspected Child Abuse and Negligence (SCAN) team, does not have immunity from civil lawsuits, may have set an important legal precedent.
How does a routine trip to an E.R. by concerned parents in Kentucky turn into a terrifying ordeal where the parents were blindsided by child abuse accusations, and sent home empty-armed and broken-hearted without their children? Only recently did they discover the truth about what happened that night over two years ago when their infant son was in Vanderbilt Children's Hospital without them. They believe their baby's diagnosis was changed by a Child Abuse Specialist to cover-up Vanderbilt's medically induced injuries, blaming it instead on the parents. They have been fighting to get their children back ever since, and want to bring their story to the public. The family shares: "It is not easy to tell our story because it is embarrassing to be accused of child abuse when you know that you are innocent. We decided to share our story because we know that we are not alone. There are many other parents that have experienced and are presently going through the same thing that we are going through now. We share our story because we want to draw public attention to this dark side of the so called shaken baby syndrome which is not scientific and where innocent parents are being locked up, their children taken away from them and their lives destroyed. We share our story because the only HOPE that a poor person has is their faith in God as the legal cost of having good representation in fighting accusations of shaken baby syndrome can be tremendous. It is our hope that our voices are heard and those in position of power will take a look at how doctors are making decisions concerning the shaken baby syndrome based on one symptom or a triad of symptoms without any other evidence of physical abuse. Families are being destroyed by only the word of a doctor. In other words, a doctor’s word is allowed to become a legal conclusion rather than focusing on only the material evidence. This ought not to be and that is why we have decided to share our story."
When Allison and Jesus Valenzuela took their 5 month old son to the emergency room with a seizure, they had no idea that their lives were about to be turned upside down. They were accused of shaken baby syndrome, and their son was seized from them by Child Protective Services on April 2, 2013. To this day, they don't know what was wrong with Alessandro that day, or what is causing symptoms that he shows even now. There were early signs of problems that doctors dismissed. After they were accused of child abuse, the Valenzuelas found, like many other parents, that doctors stopped looking for the medical basis for their child's symptoms. The parents are still looking for answers. After more than 2 years, Alessandro was returned to his parents who were cleared of all charges of child abuse. CPS is now completely out of their lives as of last month. Allison describes what they went through as "a living hell." She sent her heart-breaking story to Health Impact News, and we are publishing it in its entirety. She wants their voices to be heard.
On March 14, 2016, Health Impact News published a report describing how the General Medical Council (GMC) had found neuropathologist and defense witness, Dr. Waney Squier, guilty of misleading her peers, being irresponsible, dishonest and bringing the reputation of the medical profession into disrepute. Taking further action to destroy her career and profession, on March 21, 2016, the GMC decided that it was in the public’s best interest to erase Dr. Squier’s name from the medical register, effectively removing her license to practice medicine and ending her medical career. Speaking to the Guardian newspaper on Monday, the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service, the disciplinary arm of the General Medical Council told reporters that they: “…had no option but to end Squier’s medical career, given her serial dishonesty.” Before being professionally assassinated, Dr. Squier was thought to be the UK’s leading scientist in the field of pediatric neuropathology and had worked as a consultant at the John Radcliffe Hospital for 32 years. Until 15 years ago, she, like many other professionals, had vehemently supported and adhered to the mainstream belief that when a medical professional suspects that an infant has been violently shaken, they must examine the baby for the “triad” of injuries believed to be associated with shaken baby syndrome (SBS). However, after studying and examining the scientific underpinnings of what is only, after all, a theory, Dr. Squier began to develop serious doubts, which led her to express her ever-increasing scientific skepticism. Those doubts are what ultimately led to the abrupt end of her successful career.
The medical theory of "shaken baby syndrome" (SBS) is quickly losing credibility, with many doctors, scientists, and attorneys now speaking out against SBS and the fact that innocent parents have been falsely accused of child abuse. Courts are now re-trying some cases based on testimonies from these doctors and professionals, and some cases have recently been over-turned. The medical profession is fighting back. The reasons are quite obvious. To admit that the theory behind SBS is false, would open the door to major litigation, as the theory has been used to convict thousands of parents of child abuse, and to perhaps remove tens of thousands of children from their homes and families. There is also massive federal funding available to seize these children, making them an asset to the state. So the apparent strategy of the medical profession is to attack those doctors now testifying against SBS on behalf of innocent parents, destroying their credibility and license to practice. Without their expert testimony, it will be much more difficult to fight false SBS convictions. The latest effort along that front is the action the British General Medical Council has taken against world renowned pediatric neuropathologist Dr. Waney Squier, who has now had her career effectively destroyed for testifying to the truth.
On August 15, 2013, in Jonesborough, Tennessee, Joe Whitaker frantically spoke to 911 as he tried to save his seven month old son, Jaden. According to Joe, the ambulance raced into their driveway. A female Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) jumped out, grabbed Jaden from his arms, slammed the ambulance doors, and sped away. Joe stood in the driveway watching the ambulance pull away, confused with the events that just occurred. What happened? Where were they taking his son? Why did they leave without him? Seconds later, Charlotte Whitaker reached her house and saw Joe standing in the driveway; her heart jumped into her throat. Where was her son? Luckily, the second rescue truck was still in front of her house, and the driver told the terrified parents that their son was being taken to Johnson City Medical Center (JCMC) in Johnson City, Tennessee. Why would the ambulance leave the parents in the driveway? According to Charlotte, this is one of many incidences that would be twisted by CPS to aid them in falsely accusing the Whitakers of child abuse and taking their baby. This question became "Why didn’t Joe Whitaker get into the ambulance with his son?" rather than "Why did the rescue personnel leave the parents behind?" Later that day their other two children would be taken away from their school, never to return home again, while both parents would later be arrested and accused of "Shaken Baby Syndrome."
In the Boston Globe, columnist Yvonne Abraham writes about how prosecutors in the Middlesex County, Mass., district attorney’s office withheld exculpatory evidence in the Shaken Baby Syndrome case against Irish nanny Aisling Brady McCarthy. These prosecutors didn’t just rely on bad science; they actively suppressed evidence that not only should have informed that their theories about these cases were flawed, but was ultimately the evidence that led to the accused getting freed. A just system would sanction them. If they aren’t punished, there’s little disincentive to do it again, or for other prosecutors who might be tempted to shortchange a suspect’s rights.