Tuesday, November 06, 2001

Father testifies before jury

By Janice Morse
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HAMILTON — Raising a trembling hand to his lips, James Neil Howard tearfully told a jury why he was so upset during a 911 call to a dispatcher: “I thought I was losing my little boy.”

        Mr. Howard's testimony Monday proved to be the most emotional of his five-day trial in Butler County Common Pleas Court. Monday's testimony also included more than an hour from a Massachusetts neurosurgeon hired by the county Children Services Board to render a second medical opinion.

        Throughout the case of what is alleged to involve shaken baby syndrome, Mr. Howard, 28, of Hamilton, has said he did nothing to hurt his son, Draven. The child suffered devastating brain and eye injuries during his infancy last year.

        The boy's birth in January 2000 followed failed forceps and vacuum-extraction attempts, which doctors have said could account for some of the child's injuries. Prosecutors have argued that Mr. Howard had opportunity to abuse the child on April 1 and April 4, when the child developed serious breathing problems and Mr. Howard was the only adult with him. Mr. Howard is accused of two felony child-endangering charges, each carrying a sentence of up to eight years.

        A jury is expected to begin deliberations today after lawyers give their closing arguments.

        On Monday, Mr. How ard's lawyer, Michael Shanks, asked him if he ever shook, slammed, punched or abused his child in any way. Shaking his head no, Mr. Howard replied: “I did not hurt my son. I love him.”

        The defense also presented testimony from Eleni Howard, Mr. Howard's adopted daughter. Now 9, the girl had trouble remembering some events, but she said that she never saw her father treat her brother badly.

        Dr. Robert C. Cantu, who has been chief of neurosurgery for more than 30 years at Emerson Hospital in Concord, Mass., testified that by the time Draven's head injuries were discovered on April 4, 2000, some brain tissue had died from an unknown previous cause.

        The processes that caused it could have dated back weeks or months, or possibly to Draven's birth, Dr. Cantu said.

        Dr. Cantu said “something had to have occurred prior to (April 1 and April 4) to cause most of the findings” in Draven's case.

        A number of Dr. Cantu's statements differed from those offered by prosecution witnesses, mostly doctors from Children's Hospital Medical Center who had seen Draven.


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