Jury returns verdicts of Not Guilty on all counts alleging defendant violently shook baby causing child’s permanent brain damage and blindness resulting from shaken baby syndrome
From “The Georgia Defender”
Jeanne Daniel was a 32 year old female who kept as many as five pre-school aged children in her home. She had no prior record. The alleged victim was a six month old baby boy whom the State claimed she had violently shaken on the date of the alleged offense resulting in the child being permanently brain damaged and blind from the alleged shaking. Ms. Daniel was represented by attorney Doug Peters from Decatur, Georgia.
Following Jeanne Daniel’s arrest, Mr. Peters requested the State not to indict the case, to allow him to obtain the previous medical records of the child, to have them reviewed and to have the State consider an independent medical review of the child’s records prior to presenting the case to the Grand Jury. Ms. Daniel remained in custody and Mr. Peters requested a preliminary hearing. The State not only refused Mr. Peters’ request to allow time for review of the records; but, also returned an indictment cutting off the Defendant’s right to a preliminary hearing. Mr. Peters was informed that the State’s doctors found that the child had subdural hematomas, retinal hemorrhages, and brain swelling; and, that these findings proved that the child had been violently shaken. It was noted in the records that the subdural hematomas were chronic and of varying ages. The response of the State’s experts were that the child had been in Ms. Daniel’s care for three weeks and chronic subdural hematomas can develop in a three week period of time. One of the State’s medical experts was Dr. Terese DeGrandi, Director of the Advocacy Center at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, was the spokesperson for all the doctors at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and informed the authorities of Paulding County of the medical findings in the case. She omitted the finding that the subdural hematomas were chronic and that there had been evidence of varying ages of the blood found on the child’s brain.
The first three counts of the indictment charged separate offenses of Aggravated Battery for allegedly Arendering the child’s left eye, right eye, and brain useless. Count 4 accused the Defendant of assaulting the child with her hands, objects, and instruments. Count 5 charged her with cruelty to children by shaking the child. The Defendant pled not guilty and continued her request for discovery in her pre-trial motions. It was almost one year before the medical records in the case were provided to the defense. The medical records provided were limited to the medical records following the child’s admission to the hospital on the date of the alleged offense. For the next two years Mr. Peters made repeated requests for the child’s medical records from birth and the first six months of the child’s life in meetings with the district attorney, in pre-trial motions, and in ex-parte meetings with and presentations to the trial court. After two years the child’s birth records and pediatrician records were finally produced.
Mr. Peters had all of the records reviewed by a pediatric neuroradiologist, a neurosurgeon, and ophthalmologist, a biomedical engineer, and a pediatrician. The defense experts found that the child=s delivery which had begun as a vaginal delivery resulted in Aoverriding sutures of the child’s cranial plates during the birth process. The neurosurgeon explained that when the cranial plates override during the birth process it can cause the dura (the lining under the skull plates) to crimp; and, as the dura is made of living tissue, it can bleed. The experts felt that this could be the cause for a subdural hematoma that began at birth. The defense experts also noted that in the child’s pediatrician records for its first six months of life it was noted that the head circumferences of the child showed a disproportionate increase over the child’s weight, i.e., the child’s head circumferences went from the 50th percentile at birth to the 90th percentile at four months of age and during the same time the child’s weight remained at the 50th percentile. The pediatrician records also showed a pattern of irritability and fussiness on the part of the child. Also, the records showed recurring incidents of redness in the child’s eyes as well as problems with the child’s ears. Defense experts ultimately stated the recurring redness could be symptoms of ongoing bleeding problems in the child’s eyes (related to bleeding problems in the brain) and the ear problems would be consistent with the child pulling at its ears from pain associated with the increasing head circumference. The defense experts further explained that the increasing head circumference and the child’s fussiness were all consistent with the subdural hematoma which could have started at birth and rebleeding at different times during the child’s first six months of life. The defense experts further stated that on the date of the alleged offense the child’s continued fussiness and decline would be consistent with an additional rebleed of the child’s subdural hematoma and not from trauma.
After approximately four years following Ms. Daniel’s arrest the case was specially set for trial. When Mr. Peters provided the State with reports from his experts, the State amended its witness list and included 41 doctors as potential State witnesses. (Ultimately 11 doctors testified for the State.)
The State and the defense filed pre-trial Motions in Limine. The State sought to prevent the defense experts from testifying regarding their opinions that the child had not been shaken as well as defense expert testimony regarding biomedical testing and issues which were also inconsistent with the alleged victim being shaken. Mr. Peters sought to prevent the State from producing evidence through its experts regarding the shaking of the baby as the cause of the child’s injury, i.e. testimony regarding the Ashaken baby syndrome. The motions were heard in a pre-trial Harper hearing over three days with the defense presenting testimony from its neurosurgeon, biomedical engineer, and pediatrician and the State presenting testimony through its forensic pathologist. Following the hearing the Court entered an order denying both the State’s and the Defendant’s Motions in Limine and entered an order allowing all experts to testify in the case.
The State’s evidence at trial was presented over one week. The child’s mother, father, grandmother, and aunt all testified to the alleged victim’s good health during the first six months of life and before being left in the care of Ms. Daniel. A ten minute video showing compilations of home movies made of the child during its first six months of life was played for the jury, including home videos the night before the date of the alleged offense all showing the baby healthy and happy. The child was then brought into the courtroom for the jury to observe. The child was displayed before the jury in a baby wheelchair and obviously showed the child’s arrest of development at six months of age (the child was 4 years old by the time of trial) and the fact that the child was blind and was allowed to be viewed by the jury in the courtroom during the mother’s testimony. Witnesses from law enforcement and DFACS also testified regarding their being informed by the doctors at Children=s Healthcare of Atlanta that the child had obviously been shaken their confronting the Defendant with the allegations, their interview of the Defendant, and their arrest of the Defendant.
The State also presented the doctor that delivered the baby, the pediatrician which examined the baby following birth, the pediatrician which treated the baby during its first six months, as well as all of the treating doctors at the local Cobb County Hospital and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. Each of the medical experts called by the State testified to their opinion that the child had definitely been subjected to violent shaking as the cause for its brain damage and blindness. The State also presented computer animations presented by its forensic pathologist showing shaking of the baby’s brain and eyes illustrating the experts testimony regarding the shaking as a cause for the baby’s injuries. Also, the State had one of its medical experts do a demonstration of an actual shaking of a doll in court again illustrating the expert’s opinion regarding shaking being the cause of the child’s injuries. Mr. Peters had filed pretrial motions in limine to exclude from the trial the State’s computer animations, as well as any demonstrations of shaking a doll. The Court had denied the defense motions.
The defense presented Ms. Daniel’s as well as her mother and father all consistent with Ms. Daniel’s innocence of not having done anything to harm the baby. In response to Mr. Peters’ questions, the ophthalmologist testified that the bleeding in the baby’s eyes was consistent with the ongoing bleeding in the baby’s brain. The biomedical engineer testified regarding biomedical testing indicating that shaking alone cannot cause the injuries that were sustained by this child. The Defendant’s biomedical engineer also noted that there was no other evidence of injury to this child, i.e, there were no rib fractures, no long bone fractures, no bruising, no impact site where the baby’s head had been slammed or struck by any object. The experts explained in detail about the phenomenon of a subdural hematoma which is chronic being subject to rebleeding from slight trauma or no trauma at all. The defense experts pointed out still shots (which were created by the defense) from the 10 minute video of the child’s life which showed a large square and flat shaped forehead which is one of the symptoms consistent with an abnormally increasing head circumference. Defense’s experts also stated that in their review of the computer animation of the shaking presented by the State that the animation was not accurate, i.e., it showed a healthy brain being shaken whereas blood was already present in the child’s brain in this case. The computer animation also showed evidence of bleeding inside the brain, not on the surface of the brain as in the present case, which was not present according to the review of the CT and MRIs by the defense experts.
During deliberations over three days the jury twice notified the court that it was unable to reach a verdict; however, the jury continued to deliberate. The jury finally delivered verdicts of not guilty on all charges. At the announcement of the verdicts, the packed courtroom exploded in applause from the supporters for Ms. Daniel.