Tuesday, August 14, 2001

'Shaken baby' trial delayed


2nd medical opinion made in abuse case

By Janice Morse
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HAMILTON — Confronted with a second medical opinion, a Butler County judge on Monday reluctantly postponed trial in an alleged case of shaken baby syndrome.

        Defense lawyer Michael Shanks said he was hesitant to further delay the trial of James Neil Howard, 28, a Hamilton man who is accused of four counts of felony child abuse, but needed more time.

        Now 19 months old, Draven Howard was diagnosed with head and eye injuries that doctors in Cincinnati considered consistent with shaken baby syndrome, a term used to describe a set of symptoms believed to have been caused by abusive handling.

        On Friday, a Massachusetts neurosurgeon issued a second opinion that Draven's brain abnormalities could have dated back to birth in January 2000.

        “Mr. Howard's right to a fair trial supersedes all these other balancing issues,” Mr. Shanks said, adding he felt it was “virtually impossible” for him to explore issues raised in the medical opinion released Friday — one business day before the planned trial date.

        Prosecutor Robin Piper said his team was ready to go to trial, but a delay might be necessary “so the defendant can have (his) fullest and best day in court.”

        Judge Keith Spaeth said he was somewhat concerned that a delay — the third in the case — would be detrimental to the prosecution because of witnesses' memories fading. But the judge said he agreed that the defense should have more time because of the seriousness of the charges Mr. Howard faces and because “we are in a search for the truth.”

        The trial has been rescheduled for Oct. 29.

        Dr. Robert C. Cantu wrote the alternative opinion after examining Draven's records at the request of the Butler County Children Services Board.

        That agency retained Dr. Cantu because of issues raised about the diagnosis of Draven's condition, said Michael Francis, board chairman.

        The child's mother, Angie Howard, 28, has said that her son's birth involved use of forceps and a vacuum device on his head. She has said she thinks his difficult birth could have caused the injuries that were discovered when Draven was 2 1/2 months old.

        “We feel we made the right choice in getting the second opinion,” Mr. Francis said. “When there are questions relating to diagnosis, you have a duty to seek additional information.”

       



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