Monday, 7 November 2011

SBS: North Carolina: Cheryl Alston trial


HILLSBOROUGH – After calling two doctors and a biomechanical engineer who questioned the theory that shaking a baby can cause traumatic brain injury, the defense rested its case Friday in the trial of Cheryl McAdoo Alston.
The state began its rebuttal evidence Friday morning, and it is expected that closing arguments will begin early next week.
Alston is facing charges in connection with injuries to a 5-month-old baby that was in her care in Chapel Hill on May 1, 2009. The state contends that Alston shook or otherwise injured the baby, who suffered serious brain injuries that have left him with permanent disabilities requiring him to undergo nearly constant therapy.
Assistant Public Defender Susan Seahorn began her defense of Alston by calling Alston to the stand. Alston adamantly denied hurting the baby in any way, but during cross-examination, Assistant District Attorney Lamar Proctor pointed out several inconsistencies in the story she told about what happened that day.
The prosecution focused on where the baby was just before Alston claims she noticed something was wrong with him.
During questioning by investigators, which the jurors saw on videotape, Alston insisted that she had put the baby in a bassinette in a room for his afternoon nap and when he woke up, he was cheerful and happy.
Alston said she changed his soiled diaper and was washing her hands when she realized something was wrong with the baby and he began having a seizure. She was on the phone with the 911 operator when the father arrived that afternoon to pick his son up.
On the videotape, however, after the investigator told her about evidence that called into question her story about where the baby had been sleeping, she then admitted the baby had been in the car seat before she changed his diaper.
The investigator suggested that she had been keeping the baby in the car seat, which is against day care regulations, because she had previously injured the baby and was keeping a close watch on him by carrying him around in the car seat while she went about her other business.
Seahorn, however, in her cross-examinations of the state’s witnesses, which included the baby’s father, focused on inconsistencies in their statements, including a radiologist who changed his report just before the trial.
Seahorn’s expert witnesses testified that in the last decade, some doctors have begun to question whether the theory of shaken baby syndrome is correct. Treating doctors have diagnosed the syndrome based on injuries they’ve seen on babies’ brains, and then investigators, armed with that knowledge, have gone looking for the person who most likely shook the baby and charged that person with a crime even though there was no other evidence other than the doctor’s diagnosis that the baby had been shaken.
Seahorn’s theory of the case is that the treating doctors don’t really know what caused the injury on the baby’s brain. She presented one witness, a biomechanical engineer who conducted tests on a doll at his home, who contended that shaking a baby does not produce enough force to cause those types of injuries.
During the trial, Proctor and Seahorn have periodically sparred angrily with each other, raising their voices and jumping up out of their seats to interrupt the other, both in front of the jury and outside the jury’s presence.
Each has offered multiple objections to the other’s evidence and witnesses forcing Superior Court Judge Michael Morgan to repeatedly send the jury back to the jury room so he could hear their arguments outside of the jury’s presence.

: The Herald-Sun - Defense claims shaken baby syndrome theory is wrong

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