Wednesday, November 07, 2001

Father found guilty of child endangering

By Janice Morse
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HAMILTON — Even as James Neil Howard was being handcuffed, he insisted: “I did not hurt my son.”

        Mr. Howard, 28, was convicted Tuesday on a felony child-endangering charge but was acquitted on another count in Butler County Common Pleas Court in a case of alleged “shaken baby syndrome.”

[photo] James Neil Howard speaks to his wife after hearing the jury's verdict.
(Enquirer photo)
| ZOOM |
        His son Draven, now 22 months old, suffered brain and eye injuries last year. Mr. Howard has maintained that he would never hurt the child that he and his wife tried for four years to conceive.

        The child's birth in January 2000 involved failed forceps and vacuum extraction attempts, and doctors said some of the child's injuries could have dated to the birth.

        The jury of eight men and four women reached its decision after seven hours of deliberations.

        Mr. Howard's supporters let out sighs of relief when the “not guilty” verdict was read on an allegation that Mr. Howard hurt Draven on April 1, 2000. Seconds later, some burst into tears when Judge Keith Spaeth read the guilty verdict on the second count, involving April 4, 2000.

        Mr. Howard, his wife and family embraced in a tight knot, sobbing, before a deputy handcuffed Mr. Howard and led him to the county jail to await sentencing Dec. 20.

        Mr. Howard, who has no prior criminal record, faces up to eight years in prison.

        Steve Tolbert and Craig Hedric, assistant prosecutors on the case, left the courtroom without comment; the jury foreman also declined to comment.

 Mr. Howard
Mr. Howard hears the verdict
        Defense lawyer Michael Shanks said he was puzzled as to “how a jury can ignore the clear and uncontroverted testimony of a national expert.”

        He was referring to the testimony of Dr. Robert C. Cantu, a Massachusetts neurosurgeon who rendered a second opinion on behalf of the county Children Services Board.

        Dr. Cantu said X-ray-like images of the child's brain showed that he had suffered a significant head injury before April 2000.

        Other doctors had testified that Draven's injuries on April 4 last year could have dated back hours, days or weeks, but they said his most significant injury was on or around April 4, 2000.

        Further, prosecutors had hammered on three points they said pointed to Mr. Howard's guilt: He was the only adult around Draven when the child stopped breathing; he told a 911 operator that he hoped he hadn't hurt the child when he “patted” Draven's chest and back, and he told several people that he had “gently” shaken the child in an effort to rouse him.

        Mr. Howard's mother, Karen Seiter, kept saying: “This isn't right.”

        She was so distraught, she fell to her knees in the walkway leading from the courts building to a parking garage.

        As jurors walked past, Mr. Howard's sister, Amy Campbell, comforted Mrs. Seiter and stated loudly: “They're wrong, because they don't know him.”


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