Babysitter Terry McKirchy could not have predicted that she would be facing murder charges and possible life in prison 35 years after she served her sentence in a shaken baby case. In 1985, she was arrested and charged with attempted murder and aggravated child abuse. You can read about this tragic story here. Like many SBS cases, the prosecution theory seemed to rely on the notion that the last caretaker must have harmed the child because the child would have shown symptoms immediately after the event.
Ms. McKirchy was offered a plea deal with a very light sentence and she agreed to it. She nonetheless continued to assert her innocence. The child was severely injured and lived under the care of his parents until his recent death at age 35. Now, after all this time, the prosecution is alleging that the cause of death was the injuries sustained at 5 months of age.
At the time that her case was charged, the medical science supporting SBS theories was considerably less developed (i.e. it was wrong on a number of important medical issues.) For example, in 1984 when this injury occurred, doctors were testifying that a short distance fall would never create the classic SBS injuries (subdural hematoma, retinal hemorrhages and brain damage.) Now we know that to be incorrect, although many parents have been convicted and imprisoned based on that flawed science.
In addition to flawed medical theories, the diagnostic imaging that was available in 1984 was significantly less advanced than the modern CAT and MRI. As a result, there is a concern about the prospects of getting a fair trial for Ms. McKirchy. Today, it is common to determine that the child has a mixed density fluid collection (old and new blood). This may be difficult to determine in the less advanced diagnostic imaging from the time of injury in this case. This is important because the “last caretaker must be guilty” assertion does not make any sense when there is evidence that there is both an old and new injury. Modern scientific literature establishes that old subdural hematoma’s re-bleed spontaneously so blaming the last caretaker can lead to a flawed analysis of the case.
The prosecution is facing the daunting challenge of proving that the cause of death was the injury sustained as an infant. Their case may be aided by the plea that was entered in the earlier case. Most pleas are supported by sworn testimony from the Defendant. As for Ms. McKirchy, she is going to need the help of defense attorney who if familiar with Shaken Baby Syndrome litigation and expert medical doctors who can help straighten out the unresolved medical issues.
Cronkright Law is a Michigan law firm representing parents with complex medical defenses in child abuse cases. Free initial consultations are available to parents or caretakers looking for a quality defense.