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Tragedy compounded: a story of medical experts and mistakes

The death of a baby girl is an unspeakable tragedy. The tragedy is compounded when medical examiners misread the causes of death and law enforcement authorities arrest an innocent man. And then the innocent man suffers at the hands of a criminal justice system eager to rush to judgment.

That's apparently what happened far from Bergen County, to a man in Amarillo, Texas. He is currently in prison serving a 60-year sentence for sexual assault of the infant. However, National Public Radio, which investigated his story, reports that evidence is mounting that the man never harmed that six-month-old child.

His story has an innocent beginning: he and his wife were babysitting the little girl and her two toddler siblings one morning. The man's wife ran out to take care of an errand, leaving him alone with the kids.

Forty minutes later, he was on the phone, asking for an ambulance for the little girl. She'd been bitten by a spider days before, he told the 9-1-1 operator. "I tried to slap her on the bottom and slap her on the face and she won't wake up. She won't do nothing," he said.

He rode with the infant in the ambulance to the emergency room, where police detectives, alerted by hospital staff, soon arrived to question him.

The auto mechanic cried as he talked to the officers. A day later, the baby had died and the man had been arrested.

The hospital's pediatric staff had concluded upon examination of the girl that she'd been sexually assaulted and that her death had been caused by "multiple blunt force injuries." A brain scan showed pooled blood and swelling; and her vagina contained blood.

Police officials and prosecutors were quick to act: since the man was the only adult there at the time the injuries were reported, he must have been the cause of the injuries.

We'll share more of his story in our next post.

Source: National Public Radio: "The Child Cases: Guilty Until Proved Innocent" by A.C. Thompson, Joseph Shapiro, Sandra Bartlett and Chisun Lee: June 28, 2011

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