Is Shaken Baby Syndrome Junk Science?
The Shaken Baby Syndrome Debate: Is SBS Junk Science?
Jeff Havard was convicted and sentenced to death for shaking an infant to death in the process of a sexual assault. The accusation of sexual assault has been thoroughly reviewed, and it is now very clear that a sexual assault never occurred. There are currently no experts that support that claim.
This page focuses on the accusation of shaken baby syndrome (SBS). The prosecution's expert, Dr. Steven Hayne, testified that the cause of death of Chloe Britt was consistent with SBS. Hayne has now changed his mind based on new scientific evidence. Hayne was the only expert to testify in this case.
Jeff has always maintained that the infant slipped from his arms while lifting her from the tub, causing her head to hit the toilet. New expert evidence supports Jeff's claims.
New scientific evidence has come to light in recent years challenging the validity of SBS, calling into question thousands of convictions that may have been secured on flawed science.
The Audrey Edmunds case in Wisconsin highlighted how errors can occur when diagnosing SBS. Audrey Edmunds was wrongfully convicted in 1996 of reckless homicide for the shaking death of Natalie Beard, a 7-month-old infant she was watching while doing home daycare. Audrey was sentenced to 18 years in prison.
In 2006 the Wisconsin Innocence Project, took on Audrey’s case. New scientific evidence was emerging that was not available at the time of Audrey’s trial that supported her innocence.
In January of 2008, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals ruled that "a shift in mainstream medical opinion" had cast doubt on whether shaking could have caused the brain injury that caused Natalie Beard's death, leading the court to order a new trial. The District Attorney's office dropped the case, freeing Audrey after serving 11 years in prison for a crime she did not commit.
Rethinking Shaken Baby Syndrome
The dispute over shaken baby syndrome is a bitter civil war. On one side, doctors, lawyers and other experts say the diagnosis is key to winning convictions of people accused of the most horrible acts of child abuse. Opponents say the diagnosis is used too freely and that sometimes, innocent people go to prison.
Norman Guthkelch, the pediatric neurosurgeon who is credited with first observing the condition in young children, is speaking out for the first time about his concerns regarding how that diagnosis is used. He worries that it is too often applied by medical examiners and doctors without considering other possible causes for a child's death or injury. Continue reading →
Investigating Innocence: Shaken Baby Syndrome
We have investigators who are experienced in defending shaken baby syndrome cases. With the exoneration of daycare provider Audrey Edmunds in 2008 through the work of the Wisconsin Innocence Project, investigating the convictions of parents and babysitters who have been falsely convicted of shaken baby syndrome is the new frontier of the innocence project. Mainstream science now recognizes many natural causes for subdural and retinal hemorrhages that were once thought to be exclusively caused by shaking a child. We can provide investigative resources of pending cases involving alleged shaking deaths of children. Investigating the death of an infant or child requires an understanding of the evolution of medical science since shaken baby syndrome was first proposed as a theory. Most investigators who investigate child abuse allegations are unaware of what has been described in court opinions as a “fierce debate” within medical science over the validity of shaken baby syndrome. Police and child advocacy investigators, as well as criminal defense investigators, should become informed about the controversy over this diagnosis. Continue reading →
Challenges to 'shaken baby' convictions mounting
In January, a federal judge in Chicago issued a stunning ruling: Shaken baby syndrome as a cause of death has little to no scientific basis. Continue reading →
Acquittal in California SBS Case
Quentin Stone was found not guilty of inflicting abusive head trauma (the current “official” term for SBS) on his infant son, who, days before, had accidentally fallen off the bed. Continue reading →
Shaking Up “Shaken Baby Syndrome”
Mareeg.com-OXFORD – The most tragic event that can befall new parents is the sudden, unexpected death of their baby. Perhaps the only thing worse is the parents being wrongly accused of causing the death, and indeed prosecuted, owing to the medical community’s misinterpretation of the findings. Continue reading →
Finally, a Judge Calls Shaken Baby Diagnosis an “Article of Faith”
Almost a decade into a 20-year prison sentence for murdering a baby in her care, 43-year-old Jennifer Del Prete was ordered freed on bond late last week. The ruling is one of a growing number that reflect skepticism on the part of judges, juries, and even prosecutors about criminal convictions based on the medical diagnosis of shaken baby syndrome.
Expert Opinion In Jeff Havard's Case
Prosecution Expert, Dr. Steven Hayne
Dr. Hayne executed an Afﬁdavit on July 22, 2013. With respect to Shaken Baby Syndrome, Hayne stated: “At trial, I testiﬁed that the cause of death of Chloe Britt was consistent with Shaken Baby Syndrome. Recent advances in the ﬁeld of biomechanics demonstrate that shaking alone could not produce enough force to produce the injuries that caused the death of Chloe Britt. The current state of the art would classify those injuries as shaken baby syndrome with impact or blunt force trauma.” These statements were made with a reasonable degree of medical certainty.
Dr. Michael Baden
Dr. Michael Baden is a physician and board-certified forensic pathologist. Dr. Baden is the former Chief Medical Examiner of New York City and is currently the chief forensic pathologist for the New York State Police. Dr. Baden is well respected worldwide for his work in this field.
At The Clarion-Ledger's request, Dr. Baden agreed to review the evidence in the Jeffrey Havard case. Baden disagreed with the finding of shaken baby syndrome. Baden stated: "There is no autopsy or scientific evidence to support a diagnosis that Chloe died of shaken baby syndrome.”
Dr. George Nichols
Dr. George Nichols is a forensic pathologist with over twenty year's experience as Kentucky's Chief Medical Examiner, as well as being an instructor of pathology at the University of Louisville Medical School the past twenty-three years.
According to Dr. Nichols, Chloe Britt's death is entirely consistent with a short fall, and not an abusive shaking.
Dr. Janice Ophoven
There was no evidence to support a finding of shaking in this case; instead, the evidence is of impact. There may also have been contributing factors, including illness. A complete review of the autopsy slides and photographs is required in order to reach more definitive conclusions."
Dr. Ophoven stresses the need for a review, stating: "I am very concerned that this case represents a serious miscarriage of justice, particularly given the capital nature of the case, and an urgent remedy and review of the evidence is required. I would personally agree to participate in such an investigation on a pro bono basis until a proper analysis, including review of the autopsy slides and complete set of autopsy photographs, has been completed."
Dr. Chris Van Ee
Dr. Chris Van Ee holds a Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering from Duke University and is a licensed Professional Engineer. Dr. Van Ee has specific expertise in the analysis and risk assessment of head injury in the infant and adult populations.
Dr. Van Ee concludes that a short fall should not be dismissed as a cause of the injuries detailed in the autopsy. He writes: "Based on the current data on short distance falls and head injury mechanics and the information provided to me for this case, it would be biomechanically incorrect to dismiss the history of fall as a causal factor resulting in the findings described at autopsy. Shaking is a less likely explanation for these findings."