Wednesday, 17 November 2010

SBS: Miller, Pennsylvania: Doctors give conflicting opinions on shaken baby

November 9, 2010
A jury of six men and six women is expected to begin deliberating by this afternoon whether a Johnstown father is guilty of shaking his infant son so severely that it caused bleeding into the baby’s brain and eyes.
Joshua W. Miller, 42, formerly of Stone Street, is charged with aggravated assault, child endangerment, reckless endangerment and simple assault.
Miller is accused of shaking his 2-month-old son on the evening of  Jan. 14, 2009, while the mother was at work and Miller and his son were home alone. The baby was rushed to Memorial Medical Center by ambulance shortly after 10 p.m. when Miller made a frantic call for help to 911 because his son was unresponsive and grasping for breath.
The infant was treated at the Johnstown hospital before being transferred early the next morning to Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, where he was admitted for seven days.
The trial in Cambria County court neared its end Tuesday with testimony from two doctors – one for the prosecution and the other for the defense – who gave conflicting opinions on what caused the bleeding in the baby’s brain.
Dr. Janet Squires, a pediatrician who heads the child advocacy program at Children’s Hospital, said the bleeding was due to shaking of the infant. She was the prosecution’s medical expert.
“With medical certainty, I believe this child was abused,” Squires said.
No evidence was found of any underlying medical problems that would have caused the bleeding, she said.
But Dr. Ronald Uscinski, a Maryland neurosurgeon who has written extensively about shaken baby cases, said the bleeding was caused by an older injury to the membrane around the brain that “existed weeks or months and was missed (in medical exams). It was a birth injury, quite likely.”
Uscinski, hired by the defense, said the fresh blood that was seen on CAT scans does not mean a fresh injury, but bleeding from a chronic previous injury. Areas of old blood “almost certainly” remained from an injury during childbirth, he said.
Chief public defender Lisa Lazzari, who is representing Miller, has not indicated whether she will call him or other defense witnesses before resting her case.
Tamara Bernstein and Beth Bolton Penna, assistant district attorneys prosecuting the case, also have the option of calling rebuttal witnesses before the attorneys present their closing statements to the jury.
Testimony on Tuesday was delayed for an hour when Lazzari made a motion for a mistrial. She said the prosecution and the Johnstown police had failed to turn over reports about contacts with the baby’s mother last year.
The mother, who testified Monday, had denied there were any attempts by police to communicate with her, although a police report indicated there had been some contact with or attempts to contact her.
Lazzari said she could have used the information in her cross-examination of the mother.
Judge David Tulowitzki refused to grant a mistrial. Instead, with the agreement of both sides, he read to the jurors a statement that the prosecution “did not maintain proper contact with the mother in the case against Joshua Miller.”

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