4. Movement to End
"Shaken Baby Syndrome"
In the last twenty years, the pendulum has swung in the other direction on Shaken-baby Syndrome. There now exists a rift in the medical community on the diagnosis’s validity.
In 2008, a landmark decision came from the Wisconsin Court of Appeals, challenging the scientific reliability of Shaken-baby Syndrome convictions. The case involved a mother of three named Audrey Edmonds, who was serving 18 years after a child she was babysitting died after being in her care. The child had the “triad” of symptoms (brain bleed, eye bleed, brain swelling). Based on the “triad” she was charged and convicted for Shaken-Baby Syndrome.
Audrey maintained her innocence through the entire time she was incarcerated, which was over a decade. The Wisconsin Innocence Project heard about Audrey’s case and took it over. Soon, they learned that the Medical Examiner who had originally diagnosed the baby’s death as “Shaken-Baby syndrome” had changed his mind. His name was Dr. Huntington.
What was the reason? Dr. Huntington had reviewed new medical literature which showed that babies could experience “lucid intervals” after trauma. In other words, babies who suffered trauma could go prolonged periods of time appearing normal even if the “triad” of symptoms were present.
His takeaway was that It was no longer clear that the person who was last with a dying infant was the one who caused their death. Therefore, he was not convinced Audrey had anything to do with the baby’s death.
The medical research paper that Dr. Huntington credited for his change of position was written by Dr. Mary Gilliland. Dr. Gilliland was respected around the world for her ability to diagnose baby deaths. Over the last fifty years, she has specialized in the examination and diagnosis of thousands of infant fatalities. She is one of the most highly respected pathologist in history.
After Dr. Huntington changed his opinion in Audrey’s case, the Wisconsin Appellate Court reversed Audrey’s conviction and ordered a new trial. The Court noted in its decision a “fierce disagreement” and “shift in mainstream medical opinion” concerning shaken baby syndrome. It became clear that there was no longer a consensus in the medical community on the controversial diagnosis.
The prosecutor declined to retry Audrey and the charges against her were dismissed. She is now living in Wisconsin and is reunited with her three children, eleven years of jailed life later.
Audrey’s case was not the only example of a reversed conviction based on Shaken-baby Syndrome, but certainly was one of the most compelling. Following her exoneration, medical study after medical study was published challenging the long held beliefs of Shaken-baby Syndrome.
By 2018, when Franklin died, a plethora of new explanations were accepted in the medical community as being capable of causing “the triad.” They ranged from viral infection, disease, accidental trauma and, most important in Franklin’s case, suffocation.
Still, there was a very active portion of the medical community who remained loyal to the triad being a nearly undefeatable marker of abuse. For Franklin, those were the professionals who took over his care when he arrived at the Children’s Hospital of King’s Daughters (CHKD) in Norfolk, Virginia.
When baby Franklin presented at the hospital in Norfolk, Virginia his brain was swollen, he had retinal and subdural hemorrhaging. In other words, he had “the triad.” He was in critical condition and not expected to survive.
Tom found Franklin face down on a pillow and unresponsive. He had no clue about the significance of that event. He was only being asked if something traumatic happened to his son. It hadn’t.
Tom and Laura tried to think of anything that could explain the injuries. Franklin didn’t have a hard fall that they could think of. They didn’t remember anyone being rough with him, like another child at daycare pushing him to the ground. They simply had no idea what happened to Franklin that would have caused his condition.
Without an explanation for the injuries, the medical professionals defaulted to abuse. They would anchor their finding with “The Triad.” All fingers were pointed at Tom as the last person with the baby before he became unresponsive.
Franklin died five days later. His autopsy listed abuse as the cause of death.