Lawyers Challenge Evidence of Shaken Baby Syndrome

Apr 25, 2016

New science is casting doubt on forensic evidence, like bite marks or hair, used to convict people of crimes.  Now, the Innocence Project at the University of Virginia is raising doubts about the way doctors have diagnosed shaken baby syndrome.  Sandy Hausman has that story.

Trudy Munoz (right) with her two daughters
Credit Trudy Munoz Defense

In 2009, a Virginia woman who operated a daycare center in Fairfax was sent to prison for 12 and a half years.  An infant in her care had died, and she was able to revive him, but doctors who examined the child found three things: blood under his skin, bleeding inside the eyes and swelling of the brain.  Those symptoms have – for years – prompted a diagnosis of shaken baby syndrome.

Now, however, medical experts say those things could also be caused by disease.

“Genetic abnormalities, clotting disorders, some of the retinal hemorrhaging is even caused by efforts to resuscitate a child,” says  Deirdre Enright, Director of the Innocence Project at the University of Virginia.  She fears doctors are often ignoring things that could lead to another diagnosis.

“Blood work that looks unusual or the presence of an infection is ignored by doctors in favor of, ‘We have these three things.  We’re calling this trauma.’”  

And she’s working to free Trudy Munoz, the woman who ran the daycare center.

“You know it was licensed, it was meticulous.  The other people who went there, had their children there for years said she was fantastic, very patient, college educated, tiny – there was an expert who testified at her trial that she couldn’t possible have shaken the baby to the extent that would cause these symptoms.”  

The baby in question survived, and to this day Munoz – a model prisoner at the Fluvanna Correctional Center for women -- thinks about him.

“He had been fussy by all accounts – Mom, daycare people, and then as she gave him a bottle he went limp in her arms, and she tried to give him CPR, and she would love to know what happened.”  

So far, higher courts have refused to hear an appeal, so the Innocence Project will ask the governor for clemency.  In the mean time, it’s hosting a preview of the new film Syndrome – about wrongful convictions based on an erroneous diagnosis of shaken baby syndrome.  The fundraiser takes place April 26th at 6 in UVA Law School’s Caplin Auditorium.