7. “When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary Comes to Me”
During those three years, Tom and Laura worked hard to maintain a sense of normalcy in their lives, while a team of doctors and lawyers worked hard to prove Tom's innocence. Among them was none other than Dr. Mary Gilliland. Dr. Gilliland heard about Tom’s case. The diagnosis did not match the story of how Franklin died. She was concerned they got it wrong. But Dr. Gilliland was now retired. Still, she could not ignore this particular case.
She agreed to take a look at Tom’s file; thousands of pages or medical records, witness statements and investigative reports. Tom’s hope was that Dr. Gilliland would offer an independent analysis and opinion on Franklin’s death, and maybe, just maybe, find out what really happened to his son.
Usually, this type of exercise by a professional expert would cost thousands of dollars. Dr. Gilliland, however, only accepted the task if her fee was donated to charity. In this particular case, she found no more worthy charitable endeavor than Tom. She would not only take on his case, but she would do it for free.
After a few weeks, Dr. Gilliland finished her review of Franklin’s records. Her suspicion was right. She was now certain the medical examiner had got it wrong. This was not a case of abuse, but of a tragic accidental suffocation, similar to what is known as SIDS.
Franklin had pivoted himself on the couch and the change of position left the 5 month old with his face turned into a pillow. Everything she reviewed supported this version of events.
Dr. Gilliland noted, “the baby turned his face into a couch cushion, which blocked his airways, and was unable to move himself out of that position causing him to suffer a prolonged period with no oxygen or blood flow to his brain.”
Dr. Gilliland found this critical evidence was not considered by the doctors who diagnosed Franklin’s death as abusive head trauma. If they had known about the accidental suffocation, it would have explained Franklin’s “triad” of injuries.
In her opinion, the most crucial part of a child death investigation is the event history, which was largely ignored. All witness accounts and scene evidence corroborated the version of events that Tom had told the doctors and police; that Franklin was face down in a pillow unresponsive when he found him.
He went nearly ten minutes without breathing and his heart stopped. The deprivation of oxygen and blood flow to the brain caused Hypoxic Ischemia, a tongue twister that translates into devastating brain damage.
Franklin’s brain swelled from the lack of oxygen and blood, and the pressure from the swelling subsequently caused bleeding in his brain and eyes. The same type of injuries that are commonly found in abuse cases.
Dr. Gilliland was convinced that Tom was not guilty. The injuries were mistakenly attributed to abuse. Dr. Gilliland diagnosed Franklin Imschweiler’s death as an accidental suffocation.
The hope was that the District Attorney would agree with their former medical examiner of thirty years.