Thursday, January 18, 2001

Physicians testify in girl's death

By Janice Morse
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HAMILTON — In an unusual case accusing a person of causing an injury that led to the victim's death years later, doctors on Wednesday testified that Ashley Smith's brain injury while an infant made her vulnerable to the illness that eventually killed her when she was 8.

        Her biological mother's boyfriend, John C. Cooper of Hamilton, is on trial for involuntary manslaughter in Butler County Common Pleas Court before Judge Michael J. Sage.

        Ashley suffered a life-threatening brain injury in December 1990, when she was just under a month old; doctors said she showed signs of shaken baby syndrome, meaning she suffered bleeding in her head and eyes, believed to result from being violently shaken.

        Mr. Cooper was convicted of child endangering and spent a year in prison.

        Now he faces up to 10 years if Judge Sage finds that he caused the original injury — and that it led to Ashley's death after a bout with pneumonia in October 1999, a few weeks shy of her ninth birthday.

        Defense attorney Mary Dudley asked Judge Sage to throw out the case, claiming it amounted to double jeopardy against Mr. Cooper.

        But Assistant Prosecutor Craig Hedric said the Ohio Supreme Court has held that double jeopardy does not apply in cases where additional facts or events occur after the original prosecution.

        As a result of her brain injuries, Ashley was diagnosed with severe mental retardation and cerebral palsy. She was unable to talk or even roll over; she had to be fed through a tube.

        Children in such condition are “sitting ducks for infection,” said Dr. Robert Lerer, one of Ashley's doctors. They also are more likely to die from an illness such as pneumonia.

        Ms. Dudley questioned whether her client's actions could have caused Ashley's injuries — and whether the fatal bout with pneumonia really was a direct result of those injuries.


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