2 doctors explain boy’s injuries
Originally published March 12, 2013 at 1:37 p.m., updated March 12, 2013 at 11:36 p.m.
Lane Schaefer “would have died without the medical care he received,” a Columbia pediatrician testified Tuesday morning, in the second day of the state’s trial of his babysitter, Shelley Richter.
At the end of the day, Presiding Circuit Judge Patricia Joyce told jurors they likely will begin deliberations in the case this afternoon.
A Cole County grand jury indicted Richter, now 42, in September 2010 for child abuse, a Class B felony, and endangering the welfare of a child, a Class C felony.
Conviction of the abuse charge could result in a prison sentence of five to 15 years. Conviction of the “endangering” charge could result in a sentence of up to seven years in prison.
Schaefer, now 3, was just 7 months old when something happened while he was at Richter’s in-home day care, 6018 Helias Drive in Taos, on Aug. 19, 2010.
Richter told investigators she had picked Lane up from a stroller, then tripped over a toddler she didn’t realize was behind her and, as she fell, dropped Schaefer onto the concrete floor.
But one doctor on Tuesday compared the injuries to a two- or three-story fall.
Physicians at the University of Missouri’s Women’s and Children’s Hospital almost immediately raised questions about possible child abuse, and Richter was arrested on Aug. 20, charged Aug. 21, then indicted in September.
Dr. Douglas Beal, a pediatrician who reviewed the paperwork on Schaefer’s care in March 2011 — but did not examine Lane — told jurors he reviews an average of 40 cases a year involving children who are seriously injured, or die, and makes child abuse findings in only about a third of the cases.
“I believe that Lane was the victim of abusive head trauma,” he testified.
Ophthalmologist Joseph Giangiacomo, at the University of Missouri’s Mason Eye Institute, also testified in a videotaped deposition that injuries to the boy’s eyes — which left Lane blind — were consistent with what’s commonly called “shaken baby syndrome.”
Dr. Nital Patel, who works in the Women’s and Children’s Hospital’s Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, was one of the doctors who treated Lane when he arrived in Columbia after being flown from Jefferson City.
Patel testified an EEG reading showed Lane’s “brain was (working) slower than normal — and the right side was more slow than the left.”
Testimony Monday afternoon showed Lane had gone from developing at a normal pace before the accident to a seriously brain-injured child with weak arms and legs, only a little speech ability and permanent blindness.
After studying a CT scan taken at Capital Region Medical Center before the helicopter flight, as well as the EEG and other tests done in Columbia, Patel said Lane “suffered abusive trauma — what many call ‘shaken baby’ syndrome.”
And Dr. Craig Downs, who became Lane’s attending physician when the boy arrived in Columbia after the accident, said the injuries were “very compatible with what’s now called non-accidental trauma, used to be called ‘shaken baby’ syndrome.”
The doctors testified Lane’s injuries were too severe to have occurred from the kind of fall Richter described.
Downs noted that, to say the injuries were caused by a fall, it would have to have been “a fall from a second- or third-story building.”
But, under cross-examination, Patel and Downs both told Richter’s attorney, Shane Farrow, that some of the tests showed what could have been previous injuries.
Patel was definite in his answer to Farrow’s question, while Downs told Farrow: “There was fluid that was there beyond the acute injury (but) I don’t know if that was an injury or a benign (situation).”
The state and defense both are expected to finish presenting evidence this morning, Joyce told jurors.
Then, after closing arguments, the jury would begin deciding whether Richter is guilty of the charged crimes.