Monday, August 4, 2014


This is a selection from a longer article. The gist of it is that dad ROBERT J. WILKES won custody of a 3-month-old baby, then promptly killed him in what was probably some frustration-fueled moment of rage. That's usually the scenario behind a baby that is violently shaken to death.

It's not mentioned in this selection, but one problem the jury had is that a father would go to all the trouble to gain custody, and then kill the child. Actually, it's not that hard to understand at all. A significant number of these men are motivated by the need for control, and anger at the mother. They don't have any nurturing skills or any desire to actually care for a baby. So their aims are accomplished just as well through killing the baby as by stripping Mom of her infant. Both moves are designed to hurt the mother. In addition, research consistently shows that FATHERS dominate the perpetrator numbers for abusive head syndrome, even though they make up a minority of infant caregivers.

Of course, there is not a word about how or why Mom lost custody, or what judge was responsible for this travesty. I can just imagine all the bad accusations that were slung at Mom, only to have the out-of-control father promptly kill the baby almost as soon as he had possession.

Missoula shaken baby conviction relied on science, expert

June 12, 2010 6:30 am • By JAYME FRASER for the Missoulian

Two years ago, Robert J. Wilkes of Missoula was a single father who had just won custody of his 3-month-old son, Gabriel.

Today he stands convicted, despite his denials, of knowingly killing his own child.

"The extent of the damage and the custody of the child - there was no other possibility," juror Allan Oines said after the trial.

Wilkes cried at trial when authorities played a 9-1-1 recording of the desperate call to report Gabriel's grievous injuries. An earlier Missoulian report quoted his insistent denials. "It makes me angry that my son is dead," he testified.

"It makes me angry that I'm the one accused of his death. I don't know who did it. But I had no reason to get mad at my son. He was 3 months old."

Multiple doctors pointed to bleeding in the brain and eyes visible by medical imaging. Their diagnosis: abusive head trauma, more commonly known as shaken baby syndrome. This conclusion and his own testimony led authorities to charge Wilkes - and not another suspect - as the child's killer.

Wilkes' story of what happened Oct. 4, 2008, never changed.

He spent the day moving between apartments in the same complex, leaving Gabriel with a neighbor. He chatted with her when he returned and fed his son a bottle of formula. At home, he laid Gabriel on the floor to rest, grabbed a drink from the kitchen and turned on the television.

Wilkes said when he checked back a few minutes later, he found Gabriel vomiting from his nose and mouth. Unable to find his cell phone, he rushed next door and cried for the sitter to call 9-1-1.

She saw him holding an unresponsive, limp baby who was struggling to breathe. She followed the dispatcher's directions and performed CPR as they waited for an ambulance.

ER physicians at Missoula's Community Medical Center treated the child initially, but soon evacuated him to a Spokane hospital specializing in pediatric medicine and better equipped to care for Gabriel's severe neurological injuries.

But nothing worked. Doctors feared the child would remain forever in a vegetative state, so Gabriel was eventually removed from life support.

Wilkes was sentenced Wednesday to 40 years in state prison for deliberate homicide, with 10 years conditionally deferred.


At first, Deputy Missoula County Attorney Suzy Boylan wasn't sure she could build a case against Wilkes. With no witness, no motive, no history of abuse and no discernable guilty behavior, the case would hinge on a jury's ability to deduce guilt or innocence from indirect evidence.

"Child abuse cases are by nature circumstantial," Boylan said. "In 11 years, we've only had two, maybe three, shaken baby cases that could be charged."

The Spokane physicians who treated Gabriel and the medical examiner who conducted his autopsy found bleeding in his brain and all four quadrants of his eyes, Boylan said. The sudden signs of brain damage were the result of "non-accidental trauma," court records said.

But the medical testimony alone wasn't quite enough. It would be difficult to prove - beyond a reasonable doubt - that the injuries occurred while in the father's custody and not the baby sitter's care, since she supervised Gabriel just an hour earlier.

Under questioning by Missoula Police Detective Dean Chrestenson, Wilkes continued to assert his innocence. Gabriel's attending physicians would testify, but Boylan needed a pediatric specialist to fit the pieces together in a way jurors could understand.

Montana's only pediatric neurologist had recently retired, so Boylan turned to Dr. Rich Kaplan, a certified child abuse pediatrician from Minnesota. Kaplan was a familiar name, having trained Montana lawyers, investigators and child protection workers at workshops and conferences.

Kaplan's analysis of the medical records, combined with one crucial detail from Chrestenson's investigation, gave Boylan the key to her case.

"They said it's all about the bottle," she said.

Both Wilkes and the baby sitter confirmed that Gabriel fed from a bottle just before his father took him home.

It was "almost inconceivable," Kaplan eventually testified, that the child could have fed effectively after sustaining such severe injuries. He said the nerves that tell the body when to eat, breathe and sleep had been violently sheared and it had happened under the father's care.

With that, Boylan had her case.

"Brains just don't go kablooey without a cause," she said.

Wilkes was charged in late March 2009, nearly six months after the chilling 9-1-1 phone call.