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News of the Day ... In Perspective

5/2/2007

“Shaken baby” syndrome being questioned

Convicted of first-degree reckless homicide and 10 years into an 18-year prison sentence, baby sitter Audrey Edmunds is seeking a new trial.

Edmunds was the last person with 7-month-old Natalie Beard when she developed symptoms and died. Although there were no external signs of abuse, autopsy showed retinal and intracranial bleeding of a type often seen with a ruptured aneurysm. The child had reportedly had an ear infection and vomited a few days before. Edmunds said she had put child, who seemed unusually fussy, down with a bottle and gone to attend to other children. When she went to check on Natalie, the girl was crying and limp, her face slick with regurgitated formula.

Dr. Robert Huntington III, the forensic pathologist whose testimony helped to convict Edmunds is now questioning the diagnosis.

If the trial were held today, Huntington told The Associated Press that “I’d say she died of a head injury, and I don’t know when it happened.” In 1996, he told the court that the injury had occurred within two hours of being treated, thus while she was in Edmunds’s care.

He changed his mind because of a similar case in which a child had a lucid interval of more than 15 hours after the injury and before the onset of symptoms.

Last year, a judge in Manatee County, Florida, barred the use of the term “shaken baby syndrome” because of its probable prejudicial effect on jurors.

Kentucky Circuit Judge Lewis Nicholls decided he could not admit expert testimony on a theory whose foundation may amount to “merely educated guesses” as to the cause of death (AP 4/28/07).

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