After the child expired, a CAT scan and retina exam was conducted on the child and the doctors concluded that the bleeding in the brain had resulted in the presence of bruises in the child’s brain. The doctors wrote their opinions on the child’s medical chart: they found that the child died due to injuries consistent with shaken baby syndrome.
Since the child did not die of natural causes, a post-mortem examination was performed by a medical examiner. He noted that the child seemed dirty and disheveled. Dirt was found under the nails and the child had a bald spot in the back of her head. The cause of death was whiplash and broken spine due to shaking and blunt force trauma to the head which caused bleeding in the child’s brain. The medical examiner found bruising in the muscles around the cervical spine and in the thoracic spine. When the child’s spinal cord was examined, there was tearing and bruising present. The child’s death was ruled a homicide.
The mother was brought the police precinct where she was interviewed by a police detective. She admitted to having shaken the child and once or twice hit the baby in the bottom area. She blamed her live-in partner of having killed her baby. The mother gave statements to the assistant district attorney who interviewed her on camera. The district attorney gave the mother a doll so that she can demonstrate how she handled her child. She took the doll by the armpits with her thumbs on the baby’s chest and her fingers on her back. She then shook the doll four times and the doll’s head bobbed back and forth. She also demonstrated how she punched the baby in the head as he sat on her lap facing her when he woke up fussy at 3am.
Six months before the seven month old baby’s death, a social worker had been visiting the mother’s older sister, two years old, who was placed in the custody of her maternal grandmother because tthere was already a suspicion that the two-year old daughter was being neglected. Upon the seven month old baby’s death, child abuse charges were brought against the mother of both her seven-month old son and her two year old daughter. The prosecution claimed that although there was no direct evidence of the abuse of the two-year old daughter, there must be a finding of derivative abuse of her two year old daughter who was present in the same apartment at the same time when her seven-month old sibling was severely assaulted and abused by the mother.
At the trial, the mother did not testify. The mother’s lawyer argued that although there can be a finding of severe abuse of the seven month old son, there can be no finding of derivative abuse of the two year old daughter absent any allegation or proof of such derivative abuse.
The Court found that the two-year old daughter was derivatively abused when her seven month old sibling was subjected to the severe abuse that caused his death. The daughter lived under a constant and substantial risk of death even if she was not the child targeted for abuse The People have succeeded in proving aggravating circumstances and the presence of reckless and intentional acts that showed a depraved indifference to the life of her son.