Thursday, March 29, 2012

Shirley Ree Smith: NPR reveals new evidence in Shirley Ree Smith "shaken baby syndrome" case; Joseph Shapiro and A.C. Thompson; Must read!

STORY: "New Evidence In High-Profile Shaken Baby Case," by Joseph Shapiro and A.C. Thompson, published on NPR on March 29, 2012.

GIST: "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."...Documents obtained by ProPublica, NPR and PBS Frontline show the coroner's office in January asked several staff doctors to take a second look at Glass's death. As part of that effort Ribe examined the autopsy report, tissue slides and other forensic evidence. 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. The "bottom line," wrote Ribe, is "there was head trauma, but we don't know when it happened or how it happened. We don't know if it's related to the cause of death. The conservative approach would be to acknowledge these unknowns. The cause of death should be diagnosed as undetermined."

PUBLISHER'S NOTE: In July, 2011, I announced the awarding of "The Charles Smith Blog award" to National Public Radio, Frontline and Propublica, for their timely, revealing joint investigation "The Child Cases" and particularly NPR reporter Joseph Shapiro and producer Sandra Bartlett, who I had met while they were working on the Canadian side of the story - the Charles Smith saga. On announcing the award, I noted that: "The probe makes the point that when a child dies under suspicious circumstances, abuse is often suspected, as in the case of six-month-old Isis Vas, whose death was deemed "a clear-cut and classic" case of child abuse, sending a man named Ernie Lopez to prison for 60 years. It points out that now a Texas judge has moved to overturn Lopez's conviction, and that new questions are being asked about the quality of expert testimony in this and many other similar cases. The NPR, Frontline, Propublica joint investigation unearthed more than 20 child death cases in which people were jailed on medical evidence -- involving abuse, assault and "shaken-baby syndrome" -- that was later found unreliable or flat-out wrong. Are death investigators being properly trained for child cases? (The answer was clearly "no.") The investigation exposes the harm to innocent parents and caregivers caused by a misguided belief in the infallibilty of "shaken-baby syndrome." Of particular note is a ground-breaking interview by NPR's Shapiro with Norman Guthkelch, the pediatric neurosurgeon who is credited with first observing the condition in young children, who speaks out for the first time about his concerns regarding how that diagnosis is used. Guthkelch worries that it is too often applied by medical examiners and doctors without considering other possible causes for a child's death or injury. As shaken-baby syndrome is currently under attack in countries such as Canada and the United Kingdom - where a disturbing number of wrongful convictions have been exposed - this interview could help contribute to the syndrome's welcome demise. Our congratulations to NPR, Frontline and Propublica for their admirable investigation on such an important, timely, largely neglected topic which is of interest far beyond America's boundaries."




I am monitoring this case. Keep your eye on the Charles Smith Blog for reports on developments.
The Toronto Star, my previous employer for more than twenty incredible years, has put considerable effort into exposing the harm caused by Dr. Charles Smith and his protectors - and into pushing for reform of Ontario's forensic pediatric pathology system. The Star has a "topic" section which focuses on recent stories related to Dr. Charles Smith. It can be found at:

Information on "The Charles Smith Blog Award"- and its nomination process - can be found at:

Please send any comments or information on other cases and issues of interest to the readers of this blog to:

Harold Levy: Publisher; The Charles Smith Blog.