Justice for abused children
Shaken baby syndrome is not a disputed diagnosis. It is not “shaken science,” as it was labeled in The Post’s two-part series in March 2015. Prosecutors fight every day for truth and justice. We work with credible experts to make sure we understand the science so that we can pursue the right outcome — whether that be a guilty conviction or a decision not to prosecute for lack of evidence.
Shaken baby syndrome is a firmly established medical diagnosis, a subset of abusive head trauma, that describes a constellation of brain injuries caused by the direct application of force to an infant or young child that results in physical injury to the baby’s head. The mechanisms for abusive head trauma include shaking and blunt force impact or a combination of both. No credible doctor or scientist can disagree that abusive head trauma kills children.
Over the past year, through a series of prosecutions, my office in Montgomery County has fought the misperception that shaken baby syndrome is not a real scientific diagnosis:
In State v. Moussa Sissoko, the defense asked the court to preclude the state’s expert witnesses from testifying that a 3-month-old died of shaken baby syndrome. The court concluded that the opinions tendered by the state’s experts were generally accepted in the scientific community and that they offered opinions that were based on reasonable scientific analysis as well as the facts available to them. The defendant was convicted by a judge of first-degree murder and child abuse resulting in death. Sissoko got 50 years of a suspended life term.
In State v. Gail Dobson, the court denied the defendant’s motion to exclude the state’s experts from testifying regarding the medical diagnosis of abusive head trauma. The defendant was convicted by a jury of second-degree murder and child abuse resulting in death for killing a 9-month-old in her care. Dobson was given 20 years of a 30-year sentence.
In State v. Adou Kouadio, a jury convicted the defendant of second-degree murder and child abuse resulting in death for killing his 7-weekold son. Kouadio received 40 years, the maximum for child abuse resulting in death.
Sissoko and Dobson were retrials; the defendants previously had been found guilty of murder, but at post-conviction, the defendants called upon a cadre of experts for the purpose of discrediting shaken baby syndrome. These defense experts included individuals reprimanded by their own medical boards and those who put forth theories not based in medicine and science. The defense experts have medical degrees but often testify outside their area of expertise. They write articles and speak at conferences. They present well. But they fail to offer juries full information about the complicated process that goes into diagnosing abusive head trauma.
Fortunately, courts of law have rejected some of the defense theories. In Sissoko and Dobson, the courts did not allow witnesses to testify about certain alternative causes of death. Further, the courts concluded that certain alternative theories were not generally accepted and could not account for the death of these children. Juries have rejected alternate medical hypotheses that fall short of explaining the catastrophic injuries suffered.
The fact that there has been a concerted effort to undermine the real medicine behind abusive head trauma flies in the face of the search for justice. We must make sure that the truth prevails and that those who abuse our children are held accountable.
Please join us in our effort to protect the most vulnerable members of our society.