A Michigan-based medical examiner who reviewed autopsy records and documents from the investigation of a 5-month-old Ansonia baby’s death last summer has concluded that police erred in claiming the child’s injuries were caused by “violent shaking.”
Dr. Ljubisa J. Dragovic, the chief medical examiner of Oakland County, Michigan, made the assertion in a two-page letter made public Tuesday at Superior Court in Milford, where Angel Santiago, the man accused of manslaughter in the baby’s death, made an appearance.
“The fracture of the skull and subdural hemorrhage found in this infant COULDNOT have resulted from shaking,” Dragovic, who has testified as a defense witness in several “shaken baby” cases, wrote in the letter.
Citing the document, Santiago’s lawyer asked a judge to reduce his client’s bond from $1 million to $100,000.
The judge declined, saying that while the letter is “interesting,” it doesn’t necessarily weaken the prosecution’s case.
Meanwhile, the prosecutor in the case argued the Michigan’s medical examiner’s letter was short on details and ignored the baby’s serious injuries.
Santiago, 36, has been behind bars since December 2011, when he was charged with causing the death of 5-month-old Kyle Robinson in June 2011.
At the time of Kyle’s death, Santiago was the boyfriend of the baby’s mother.
The Connecticut doctor who performed the autopsy concluded Kyle Robinson died from blunt force trauma and ruled the death a homicide.
The nine-page arrest warrant used to charge Santiago with first-degree manslaughter, first-degree assault, and risk of injury to a minor does not provide a concise explanation of what happened to baby Kyle.
The warrant relies on statements from several doctors who determined Kyle died from injuries received shortly before he was brought to the hospital.
Police allege Santiago is the only person who could have done it, partly because he was the only adult watching the baby at the time.
At the time of Santiago’s arrest police said they believe the death was caused by shaken baby syndrome, and spent the months after the child’s death talking to doctors in order to get a strong enough case to apply for a warrant.
‘The Unyielding Surface’
Dragovic’s letter, though, asserts that Kyle’s injuries could not have been caused by shaking, but rather from the boy’s head “impacting an unyielding surface.”
Dragovic wrote that his findings were “quite obvious” but that “it is not possible to distinguish whether the infant was dropped or thrown/slammed against the unyielding surface, based on the injury pattern alone.”
“Notwithstanding that anything is possible, any other theory of the mechanism of the infant’s head trauma does not come even close to anything logical or rational and contradicts the physical evidence in this case,” the letter says.
Dragovic also wrote that the information he’s seen — the arrest warrant charging Santiago and other police records, the autopsy report, and a report from a Philadelphia doctor who examined Kyle’s spinal cord — suggest that the baby’s injuries were “older than two days.”
In addition, he wrote, there were no bruises or scrapes on Kyle’s skin which would show that someone else had grabbed the boy and violently shaken him.
The letter is embedded below. Article continues after the document.
In court Tuesday, Santiago’s lawyer, Public Defender David Egan, asked Judge Frank Iannotti to lower Santiago’s bond to $100,000 in the case.
“We have made a showing that there is considerable doubt with respect to the state’s theory of this case, that being that this is a case involving shaken baby syndrome,” Egan said. “I believe we have presented significant evidence to the court rebutting that.”
In addition, Egan said, if Dragovic is right and the baby’s injuries occurred earlier that previously thought, “that opens up a whole other area of inquiry on the part of the defense as to when this injury occurred, custody issues regarding who was in custody of this child at the time that that incident occurred.”
State’s Attorney Kevin Lawlor countered that Dragovic testifies often in shaken baby cases and “doesn’t seem to believe it can happen in this type of way.”
The prosecutor also took issue with the briefness of Dragovic’s review.
“One of the things he fails to mention is that the child’s spinal cord was severed from its brainstem,” Lawlor said. “There’s no mention of that in this voluminous one-and-a-third-page letter.”
Lawlor asked Judge Iannotti to keep the bond as $1 million, saying the “battle of the experts” will be for a jury to sort out.
The judge ultimately agreed, saying that while “certain changes in circumstances might warrant a change in bond,” this isn’t one of them.
“It’s a position paper,” Judge Iannotti said, referring to Dragovic’s letter. “It’s hardly a medical statement.”
“Certainly I read that position paper and was interested in the position paper, but I also spent a significant amount of time reading the very detailed arrest warrant in the case,” the judge said.
Determining which experts are more credible is the jury’s job, Judge Iannotti said.
“I don’t think, in my opinion, that a position paper from a medical examiner in Michigan, in and of itself as proffered, is a change in circumstance,” Judge Iannotti said. “I don’t think in and of itself it necessarily means that the state’s case has become weaker.”
The judge then denied Egan’s motion and continued the case to Jan. 29.
Members of Santiago’s family declined to comment outside the courtroom.