Witnessed Baby Shakings – Shaken Baby Syndrome


This article addresses Shaken Baby Syndrome, SBS (now officially renamed Abusive Head Trauma – AHT), and the so-called “triad” of symptoms that the bulk of the medical establishment and the justice system say are pathognomonic (exclusively indicative of) of SBS.  The “triad” consists of retinal hemorrhage, subdural hematoma, and diffuse edema of the brain, and according to largely prevailing medical wisdom, violent shaking or abusive head trauma is the only thing that can cause these symptoms in an infant or child – not diseases or genetic conditions or short falls.

Documented, witnessed baby shakings are a rare event.  Charges of SBS are almost universally brought against care givers in situations in which there are no witnesses, and the determination of SBS rests solely upon a medical opinion.  Prof. Deborah Tuerkheimer of DePaul University has said that a “post mortem determination of SBS is essentially a medical diagnosis of murder.”

Sue Luttner is editor of a blog called OnSBS (www.onsbs.com), and has written a very interesting article about a medical team in Minnesota that was able to conduct in-depth medical evaluations of 12 infants that were witnessed to be violently shaken.  In none of the 12 cases did they find any “triad” symptoms; although, in some cases, there were other signs of abuse (e.g. broken bones).  This would tend to call into question the exclusive link between “shaking” and the “triad”.  In fact, there is a cadre of bio-mechanical experts who state that it’s not possible to shake an infant hard enough to cause triad symptoms; at least not without also causing cervical spine injury.

You can read Sue Luttner’s post here.

Let me conclude with a Special Editorial Note to those of you blog readers who are still staunch advocates of the “SBS triad” and “no lucid interval” theories.  Nobody ever said that there aren’t people who abuse their children or inflict abusive head trauma.  And nobody ever said that abusive head trauma cannot produce “triad” symptoms in an infant.  But anybody who has made an honest and objective study of the full spectrum of research done in these areas understands that to consider “triad” symptoms as exclusively indicative of abusive head trauma is both scientifically incorrect and ethically wrong.  There are other things that can cause “triad” symptoms, and “lucid interval” does exist.  And nobody ever said that those who abuse their children, and sometimes even kill them, should not bear the full weight of the consequences; but there are way too may truly loving caregivers who have not only lost a baby but have also been put in prison, because the infant presented with “triad” symptoms that were caused by something other than abusive head trauma.  “Confirmation bias” is a terrible thing, because it can prevent us from seeing the truth in a situation.  I just ask that you open up your minds, and consider information, evidence, and data that may not conform to your preconception of the way things are.  Once again, the actually guilty should bear the consequences, but could we please stop putting innocent people in prison because of blind, dogged reliance on a diagnostic that is demonstrably not universally applicable?

14 responses to “Witnessed Baby Shakings – Shaken Baby Syndrome

  1. Excellent point in the final paragraph: I am not saying that infant abuse doesn’t exist or that shaking a baby is not dangerous. I am saying that the triad by itself, without actual evidence of assault, does not prove abuse. Thank you, Mr. Locke.
    For a summary of the current misconceptions about SBS, please see the home page of my blog at http://onsbs.com/

  2. Thanks to both Phil Locke and Sue Luttner for highlighting this problem.

  3. Wow, what a great article.

  4. My son was convicted to life without any proof (or reasons) of SBS/Child Abuse. He had to take a plea because he said if he had to do life for an accidental fal he would take his life. He took a plea, was offered 12years, 10 probation and lost all rights to appeal. Was given less than 1/2 hour in total to make up his mind and plea or original conviction would be imposed upon him so he took the plea. He submitted a Motion for Post-Conviction Relief, Notice of Inquiry, Writ of Mandamus to the Court of Appeal and the COA ordered the State to respond. It took the State from April 2011 – December 2012 to respond and it resulted in denial of an evidentiary hearing and the threat of the possibility of having the original charges changed back to 1st Deg Murder and Aggravated Child Abuse. My son took care of the baby as if the baby was his. He fed, changed, played, carried, carried while the baby cried, etc and the victims mother and grandparents testitied that there was no way he would harm the baby but still my son was convicted. Now we’re afraid to proceed after the State’s response recommending that the original charges be imposed upon him.

  5. Mr. Locke,
    Thank you for this article. We need to educate people about this because a lot of innocent parents are being jailed and convicted of SBS. Most recently is my brother-in-law who would give his life for his son and very protective of his son. He was recently convicted of SBS after my nephew is now two years. My nephew did not have any injury. In fact, he tried to save his life as he gave him CPR. My brother-in-law is awaiting retrial and we are looking for expert medical witness to free him. We need as much help please.

  6. Christine,
    What you need first and foremost is an attorney who understands the technicalities, intricacies, and subtleties of SBS. Bad (or even incompetent) lawyering is a big contributor to wrongful SBS convictions. Once you have a lawyer who knows what he/she is doing, then start looking for medical experts. And you WILL need medical experts. These cases are decided solely on the basis of medical testimony.
    Phil Locke

  7. In the Philippines, many cases like this also exist. Some were even caught on cam. The problem is, these people are not put to jail..

    Brain Injury

    Traumatic Brain Injury

  8. My son’s five-week-old baby girl (his first child) suffered a bruise to her facial area after her head struck his chin as he held her up on his shoulder area to burp her. The same thing nearly had happened to me( the grandfather) twice.
    Long story short, after an all-night interrogation with police, without believing he needed legal assistance, my son – who never said the accident wasn’t his fault – ended up being charge with child abuse and reckless endangerment of a child – shaken baby.
    If anyone can tell us how to defend my son from an overzealous police interrogator, please comment here.

    • Shelly Erickson

      David, your story is alot like mine. My son was arrested for the same thing. He fell backwards with his daughter and she hit her head on his shoulder. She ended up with a bleed on her brain and seizures. My son was interviewed by the police with no counsel ( he saw no reason to have an attorney since he had done nothing wrong). He was yelled at, threatened, and lied to by the officers. He did not admit to anything but was arrested without hesitation. I wish i had some advice for you. I have refused to talk to them. I just want you to know you are not alone. Its a horrible thing to happen. It happens more then you can imagine. The only thing i can tell you is dont give up on your son. Stay strong!

  9. my wife was convicted simply because she was last to be with child . we took my brothers children in after they were taken away from them from social services. long story short 7 month child born with fetal alc syndrome club foot among other diformities. father told us the mother would shake him , drop him on the floor , yet none of this was admitted in court . child had detached retina and head trauma is what doctors said in court . my wife was given 18 yrs in prison for simply doing the right thing and was now held to blame. this is wrong and we are now in appeal .

    • This is a TRAGIC tale that we hear too often.
      Hopefully, you have an attorney who is experienced in SBS litigation, and have medical experts willing to testify on your behalf.

  10. Pingback: Shaken Baby Syndrome ……. Progress for True Science? | Wrongful Convictions Blog

  11. Pingback: Shaken Baby Syndrome ……. Progress for True Science? | Wrongful Convictions Blog

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