For the first time, a New York appellate court has ruled that evidence once used to convict people in shaken-baby cases may no longer be scientifically valid. The ruling, which came in the case of René Bailey, a Greece woman convicted of causing the death of a child in 2001, has implications for a number of other people in state prisons for shaken-baby offenses. In this area alone, several dozen people have been convicted of murder or assault in such cases. The appeals court decision, released Thursday, changes the legal landscape in New York for alleged shaken baby cases, said Brian Shiffrin, a local appellate lawyer who was not involved in the case. “It makes it both easier for defense attorneys to argue the science and it puts the burden back on prosecutors to show there is evidence to support the theory of shaken baby syndrome,” said Shiffrin, who has handled appeals of shaken-baby convictions.
In March 2016, after being publicly humiliated and having her career torn to shreds by the General Medical Council (GMC), pediatric neuropathologist and expert defense witness Dr. Waney Squier was found guilty of “misleading her peers, being irresponsible, dishonest and bringing the reputation of the medical profession into disrepute.” However, if the GMC thought that that was the end of the matter, then they were mistaken, because less than eight months later, Dr. Squier was back to appeal their decision, and this time, she was not alone. After she had been discredited months earlier, 350 doctors, scientists and lawyers rallied together in her support, and in an unprecedented move had written a letter of protest to the British Medical Journal (BMJ), questioning the GMC’s decision. Professionals were not the only ones demanding answers, because since their decision, the GMC have been bombarded with petitions and letters from parents and supporters from all over the world. It appears that the overwhelming support for this professional has had the desired effect, because in October 2016, Dr. Waney Squier won her appeal. However, despite winning her appeal, as expected, there was a catch, and although Dr. Squier’s name was returned to the medical register, she has been prevented from giving evidence as an expert witness for another three years, which many believe was her punishment for standing up to the establishment.
Chris and Keshia Turner from East Tennessee are still waiting to bring their son Brayden home since he was removed from their custody on December 11, 2014. Keshia had rushed the baby to the emergency room when his leg that had been splinted in the NICU became tight and warm to the touch. While at the hospital, an x-ray revealed a broken bone and several rib fractures. The following day, Keshia took Brayden to his pediatrician to follow-up on his care. There she found herself confronted with law enforcement and a Department of Children’s Services worker who demanded that she take Brayden to Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville, nearly three hours away. That evening, Vanderbilt Medical Center Child Abuse Specialist Dr. Deborah Lowen said that Brayden’s injuries could only be abuse, and investigators and doctors allegedly stopped looking for another explanation.
The diagnosis of "shaken baby syndrome" has previously been questioned both medically and legally. Now comes the SBU and Smers investigative report that argues that the evidence of skakvåld does not measure up. The Swedish Council on Technology and Social Evaluation and the National Medical Ethics have jointly investigated the scientific basis for the diagnosis skakvåld to infants or in English "shaken baby syndrome". After reviewing the scientific literature, explains the SBU and Smers report, there is not sufficient scientific evidence to establish that the typical damage is certainly caused by skakvåld.
Earlier this year Health Impact News reported how the British General Medical Council (GMC) erased Dr. Waney Squier’s name from the medical register, effectively removing her license to practice medicine and ending her medical career. Known as the UK’s leading scientist in the field of pediatric neuropathology and having worked as a consultant at the John Radcliffe Hospital for 32 years, Dr. Squier's crime was that she found the medical diagnosis of "Shaken Baby Syndrome" (SBS) to be "rubbish" and without scientific merit. The diagnosis of SBS has been used in many courts to convict innocent parents of abusing their children by shaking them, and many of these convictions are now being overturned in the United States. According to the BBC, over 350 doctors, scientists and lawyers questioning the decision to remove Dr. Squier’s medical license have written a letter of support to the British Medical Journal. Dr. Squier's appeal to be put back on the register and be allowed to practice medicine again started this week.
Florida Man That has Served more than 20 Years in Prison for Shaken Baby Syndrome Appeals for New Trial
More than two decades into a 70-year sentence, Jim Duncan maintains his innocence. The central Florida man is serving time for aggravated child abuse. He was convicted of the crime after he and his wife brought their infant son Kody to the emergency room when they noticed he was in pain and not using the left side of his body. The doctor found 13 broken bones and a skull fracture in his X-rays, but no bruises. He called the police. "I am innocent," Duncan told CNN's Jean Casarez. "I did not harm my son." Duncan is hoping a new lawyer, and new medical science, will end his nightmare and bring him home. His lawyer is taking his case to the 2nd District Court of Appeals in Florida next week, and he is hoping for a new trial. Illinois radiologist Dr. David Ayoub said he believes Kody had infantile rickets, a disease of early life in which bones do not mineralize properly. Ayoub said he believes this led Koby to develop metabolic bone disease, causing Kody's bones to be very fragile. With that diagnosis, Florida Defense Attorney Lisabeth Fryer is working to get Duncan's conviction overturned.
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.