A leading medical expert has stated that the Boston Irish nanny case fits all the criteria for a "mistaken" diagnosis.
Aisling Brady McCarthy, a Cavan native, faces a murder trial in October during which experts from both sides will debate how 1-year old Rehma Sabir died. The child was found in serious condition in January 2013 and died later in hospital. McCarthy was charged with murder in a case that was initially set out as “shaken baby syndrome.”
The case against McCarthy has weakened in recent times following new expert testimony, including an expert for the prosecution changing his earlier finding of shaken baby syndrome. Judge Maureen Hogan granted McCarthy bail earlier this month after 29 months in custody.
However, more and more legal experts and medical scientists are disputing the “shaken baby” diagnosis in this case and state that other factors are at work.
“It’s really a move from supposed certainty [about shaken baby diagnoses] toward acknowledgment of unknowns,” said Deborah Tuerkheimer, a Northwestern University law professor and author of “Flawed Convictions: ‘Shaken Baby Syndrome’ and the Inertia of Injustice.”
“And those questions have accelerated,” she added.
The Boston Globe reports that McCarthy’s lawyers will present evidence that little Rehma was “sick much of her life and suffered from a bleeding disorder, failure to gain weight, and had gastrointestinal problems. At the time of her death, tests revealed several healing fractures that were several weeks old, from a time when she was traveling with her family overseas.”
Tuerkheimer says Rehman’s medical issues fit the classic profile.
“In so many cases, the parents have been in the hospital off and on, and there’s just never been a decent explanation,” Tuerkheimer said. “You just have all these signs that it’s a sick baby.”
“It’s apparent the baby was not well when it was delivered to the caregiver,” she said. “It’s not only shaking that causes this; you have to rule other things out. Many, if not most, of these cases seem to be naturally caused.”
Lawyers for McCarthy say the case fits the discredited shaken baby syndrome hypothesis. “This is a shaken baby syndrome prosecution,” they wrote. “That means it is a prosecution based on a scientific hypothesis that has crumbled over the last decade.”
The Massachusetts Medical Examiner has agreed to review all the medical files in an unprecedented step before the trial begins
The diagnosis of shaken baby syndrome still has strong defenders but more and more cases are being thrown out.
Since 2001, approximately 200 shaken baby cases terminated when “charges were dropped or dismissed, defendants were found not guilty, or convictions were overturned,” according to a recent joint report by the Washington Post and Northwestern University’s Medill Justice Project
Dr Alice Newton, who made the original diagnosis in the Brady McCarthy case, had a previous diagnosis of shaken baby overturned.
However, there are still many defenders of shaken baby syndrome.
“Abusive head trauma and shaken baby syndrome are real,” said Cindy Christian, chairwoman of child abuse and neglect prevention at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “The science hasn’t shifted. It’s expanded, just like in every area of medicine.”
But Keith Findley, assistant law professor at the University of Wisconsin and the co-director of the Wisconsin Innocence Project, told the Globe the clear consensus around shaken baby diagnosis has crumbled.
“There is no gold standard diagnostic criteria for shaken baby syndrome,” he said. “The science is changing.”