Dad JOHN CHAVEZ is on trial for the death of his 3-month-old daughter. The baby died from blunt force trauma--probably from being shaken AND some "impact" to the head. The child also had other signs of abuse, such as a broken arm and rib injuries.
Pathologist testifies baby suffered abuse prior to death
By MAUNETTE LOEKS
Published: Friday, December 4, 2009 11:49 PM CST
A local pathologist called an infant allegedly killed by her father “a battered child” during testimony Friday.
Peter Schilke, a pathologist with Western Pathology Consultants in Scottsbluff, testified during an evidentiary hearing in the case against John Chavez, 36, of Scottsbluff. Chavez faces trial in January on charges that he caused the April 20 death of his 3-month-old daughter, Aubrey.
Scotts Bluff County Judge Randall Lippstreu heard testimony from doctors who treated Aubrey Chavez, investigators and others during the hearing. The state, represented by Nebraska Attorney General’s Office Deputy Attorney Doug Warner, intends to introduce evidence of prior injuries the infant had suffered. During the hearing, Warner said evidence from the autopsy shows that Aubrey Chavez had been shaken on at least one prior occasion, resulting in injuries that were similar to those that caused her death.
Schilke testified that the infant’s death was caused by blunt force trauma, consistent with the baby having been shaken and “some impact to her head that resulted in brain injury.” The girl’s left arm had also been broken. Schilke described the broken arm as an “obvious fracture,” adding the child’s arm was flopping about and had been placed in a splint by medical providers.
The child had new hemorrhaging in her brain, and hemorrhaging in her eyes that was an additional sign that the child had suffered an impact to the head. Schilke testified that rib injuries were consistent with the child having been squeezed, probably while being shaken. He said the broken arm was consistent with the infant’s arm having been twisted.
The child had previously been injured, which Schilke estimated had occurred in a prior shaking incident weeks before. Healing rib fractures and healing hemorrhaging in her brain lead to his opinion that the child had previously been injured, he said. Much like a bruise shows healing progressions, he said other injuries would also show similar progressions as the body tries to heal.
Warner asked if the injuries were consistent with a fall, which Chavez reported had happened two to three weeks prior.
“These were not accidental injuries,” Schilke said. “They were inflicted injuries.”
The infant had nine healing rib fractures, Schilke said. X-rays also show both old and recent injuries.
“Defense attorneys Bernie Straetker and Richard DeForge were seeking to exclude the evidence, saying that it would be prejudicial to jurors. They are also seeking to explore other possible causes of the infant’s death, citing that she was born about two months prematurely.
Defense attorneys asked Schilke if head injuries could have been caused by a fall, or medical conditions. Schilke acknowledged hemorrhaging does have other causes. However, he said, all of the injuries combined suggest intentional injury to the child.
“If you cherry pick specific injuries, you can come up with other causes,” he said. “If you take all the injuries in their totality, the injuries were inflicted.
“This is a battered child,” he said, saying that the child’s older injuries were also consistent with her having been shaken and occurred in the same areas as the injuries that caused her death.
Defense attorneys also asked Dr. Cynthia Guerue, a pediatrician who treated Aubrey Chavez, if she had suffered conditions that put her at greater risk for injuries, such as vitamin deficiencies causing broken bones or a lack of oxygen that resulted in hemorrhaging. She said Aubrey Chavez did not and also said the child had been meeting all developmental milestones as expected in doctor visits before her death. She said the infant had been under treatment for gastrointestinal reflux. If her reflux had worsened, crying after meals and other problems would have been symptoms.
Lippstreu took arguments about the evidence under advisement. After receiving written briefs from the state and defense attorneys, Lippstreu said he plans to rule prior to a Dec. 28 pre-trial in the case. Chavez will be tried on a charge of child abuse resulting in death on Jan. 19 through Jan. 25. He has remained in Scotts Bluff County Jail since his arrest.
He previously pled no contest to a charge of possession of methamphetamine, a Class IV felony, as part of a plea agreement in the case. Drug possession charges in the case were previously severed and Chavez will face sentencing on those charges after the conclusion of the child abuse case.