Thursday, 24 March 2011

SBS: Wisconsin: Quentin Lewis appeal court orders new trial

March 18, 2011

"¶7 Louis sought a new trial in a postconviction motion, raising newly discovered evidence, ineffective assistance of counsel, and interest of justice arguments. Underlying each argument was the notion that the jury should have heard medical testimony from expert defense witnesses regarding possible alternative causes of Madelyn's death. Louis relied on State v. Edmunds, 2008 WI App 33, ¶23, 308 Wis.2d 374, 746 N.W.2d 590, in which we noted the emergence of a "legitimate and significant dispute within the medical community as to the cause" of those symptoms commonly associated with shaken baby syndrome.

¶8 Doctor Patrick Barnes, a pediatric neuroradiologist, testified on Louis's behalf at the postconviction hearing. His testimony revealed that until 1998, the medical community viewed the presence of some or all of a triad of symptoms—retinal and subdural hemorrhaging and brain injury—as exclusively characteristic of shaken baby syndrome. Barnes found substantial qualitative problems in the medical literature supporting the triad theory.1 Although the triad of symptoms may indicate shaken baby syndrome, the medical community no longer considers those symptoms exclusively characteristic of that form of abuse. Barnes noted recent biomechanical literature that concluded the type of brain injury commonly associated with shaken baby syndrome requires some type of impact and cannot be caused by shaking alone. In addition, Barnes testified that an injured child might experience a lengthy lucid interval, during which the child could display nonspecific symptoms like "irritability, maybe excessive crying, poor feeding, [or] not sleeping or sleeping too much ...." Barnes' review of Madelyn's medical records led him to conclude that her injuries were not characteristic of abuse and did not implicate Louis as Madelyn's last caretaker. In Barnes' opinion, no medical expert could determine with any certainty what in particular caused the injuries that led to Madelyn's death.

¶9 Doctor Jerome Plunkett, who also testified for Louis at the postconviction hearing, stated definitively that Madelyn "wasn't shaken." When an infant is shaken, the force travels through the neck before reaching the head. According to Plunkett, shaking a baby severely enough to cause hemorrhaging in the brain will also cause "structural failure of the neck." Madelyn showed no structural neck damage. In addition, Plunkett testified that Madelyn's retinal hemorrhaging could not have been caused by shaking. He also noted that Madelyn had an unexplained chronic subdural hematoma that occurred at least a month before her death. In short, Plunkett found "no evidence that shaking had anything to do with Madelyn's collapse on the 18th or her original subdural hematoma." He concluded that Madelyn's treating physicians simply assumed she had shaken baby syndrome.

¶10 Doctor Huntington was recalled by the State at the postconviction hearing. To the State's surprise, Huntington changed two key aspects of his trial testimony. Huntington indicated that, contrary to his trial testimony, he now believed that shaking could not cause severe brain injury without an impact. Huntington also stated that certain spinal cord injuries he observed in Madelyn and mentioned at trial were not confirmed by subsequent neuropathologic examination and "should not be trusted.".........

We additionally note that the jury may view Louis's confession in a different light with the aid of the new medical testimony. We conclude the circuit court properly exercised its discretion when ordering a new trial in the interest of justice."

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