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When what looks like child abuse isn't abuse: Part 2

As reported in the previous post, NPR, ProPublica and PBS Frontline have been investigating shortcomings in the nation's death investigation system and how these shortfalls in the system can lead to the wrongful conviction of people for sexual assault, homicide and abuse of children. NPR looked into almost two dozen cases where convictions of these crimes were overturned after it was found that the work or testimony of the forensic pathologists involved was flawed or biased.

A recent NPR story reports on this issue and mentions a few of these cases, particularly one case where a man is in the eighth year of a 60-year sentence for sexual assault of a child he was babysitting. He was convicted by a jury of the crimes based almost solely on medical evidence that may have been flawed.

A defense attorney became interested in his case and is working to have his conviction overturned. The man was charged with the sexual assault and death of the baby because he was the last one to be in care of the girl. The defense attorney who is heading the effort to get the man's conviction overturned later found evidence that the baby may have been sick for days and neglected by her mother, a doctor.

According to NPR, the police investigation looked mostly into the medical evidence provided by doctors and the forensic pathologist, and his defense attorneys did not provide medical experts to dispute the forensic pathologist's conclusions. The new defense attorney has interviewed prior colleagues and a former nanny of the mother, and believes that the mother had an alcohol problem at the time of her baby's death, and had smoked and drank throughout her pregnancy with the baby.

The man who was babysitting the baby and his wife at the time both said that the baby had been having health problems that were worsening before her death, but the mother would not allow them to take her to the doctor. The weekend the baby died, the mother was going out of town. It has been found that the mother has had her medical license suspended in the state she moved to because of a problem with alcohol abuse.

Other medical experts have told the defense that they don't believe the baby's injuries demonstrated sexual assault and that the baby may have had a disease that made her bleed to death internally. The defense is trying to present a more complete story of what happened to the baby with the goal of having their client's conviction overturned. He has been granted an evidentiary hearing.

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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