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When what looks like child abuse isn't abuse: Part 1

A recent investigation by NPR, ProPublica and PBS Frontline looked into problems with death investigations in the U.S. The death investigation system in the U.S. lacks national standards, is underfunded and has a shortage of specialists the investigation found. The investigation also found that many doctors were working as forensic pathologists without the required board certification.

These problems can become more problematic when the death being investigated is that of a child, because children's bodies work differently than adults. This is why, NPR explains, that doctors who treat children become pediatricians after undergoing different training than those who treat adults.

All of this means, that it is possible for a person to be wrongly accused of the sexual assault and homicide of a child when the child actually died of natural causes. The NPR story says that they analyzed two dozen cases where convictions were overturned after a reexamination of the available evidence. The people had been wrongly convicted based on flawed work or biased conclusions by forensic pathologists.

NPR tells the story of a man who has served eight years of a 60-year sentence after being convicted of sexual assault of a baby who he was babysitting. The baby later died and he is also facing murder charges in the case but has not yet been tried.

When the baby arrived at the hospital, she was bleeding everywhere including the brain and vagina. She was also covered in bruises. The forensic medical examiner and many of the nurses and doctors at the hospital as well as the police immediately thought that the baby had been sexually assaulted and had experienced blunt force trauma.

The next post will continue to discuss this story and why the man's conviction may be overturned.

Source:, "The Child Cases: Guilty Until Proved Innocent," A.C. Thomson, Joseph Shapiro, Sandra Bartlett and Chisun Lee, 28 June 2011

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