CA - A senior pathologist in the Los Angeles County coroner's office has sharply questioned the forensic evidence used to convict a 51-year old woman of shaking her 7-week-old grandson to death, identifying a host of flaws in the case.
The new report by the pathologist, James Ribe, details eight "diagnostic problems" with the coroner's 1996 ruling that the child had died from violent shaking or a forceful blow to the head. Ribe wrote that he saw little evidence that the infant had been attacked, noting "the complete absence of bodily trauma, such as face trauma, grab marks, bruises, rib fractures, or neck trauma."
In Ribe's view, the injuries to the child's brain were relatively minor and could have been caused by the birth process. He also noted the baby's lungs were speckled with tiny blood spots called petechiae, which are often linked to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and suffocation, and pointed out that Glass had been sleeping face down on an "unsafe sleep surface" – a couch cushion – on the night of his death.
In the decade and a half since Smith was convicted, much has changed in the world of forensics. The National Academy of Sciences in 2009 issued a lengthy report highlighting flaws in the country's coroner and medical examiner system and criticizing the techniques used in law enforcement crime labs.
Among doctors there's an increasing awareness of ailments and conditions that can mimic the typical symptoms of child abuse — bleeding and bruising. The leading textbook on pediatric head injuries now includes two chapters on these mimics; they range from sickle cell anemia to congenital brain malformations to unintentional damage caused by the use of forceps or vacuums during birth.