Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Dad on trial for killing infant son will challenge confession (Milwaukee, Wisconsin)

Dad is identified as DAVID A. ALLEN.

Father on trial for killing infant son will challenge confession

By Bruce Vielmetti
Sept. 29, 2015

A Milwaukee man charged with killing his infant premature son falsely confessed to abuse during a police interview so that the child's mother would be released as a suspect, his attorney told jurors Tuesday.

The case could also highlight a growing doubt within the medical community that certain brain injuries among children can result only from "shaken baby syndrome," imposed by stressed-out, frustrated caregivers.

David A. Allen, 34, is on trial for first-degree reckless homicide as well as child abuse and neglect causing great bodily harm. His namesake son died in April 2013, six months after the then 12-week-old boy was first taken to Children's Hospital of Wisconsin, where doctors diagnosed broken ribs and brain damage later attributed to blunt force trauma. Allen was first charged in October 2012; prosecutors upgraded the charges after the child died.

"Home. There should be no safer place for a child," Assistant District Attorney Matt Torbenson told the jury in an opening statement. But the victim, referred to as Junior, spent his last day at home unable to eat, deteriorating as his father "watched and did nothing."

As in most child abuse prosecutions, medical experts for the state will testify that Junior's injuries were inconsistent with any cause other than abuse, Torbenson said. On top of that, he said, jurors will hear Allen's varied explanations of accidents that might have led to the injuries.

He first mentioned a fall from a 3-inch mattress, a bump on the faucet during a bath, then a fall from his arms to a concrete floor, then finally saying that, with Junior clawing at his face, Allen shook the boy, hard.

The next morning, the boy wouldn't eat, and his condition worsened before his parents finally called 911.

At the end of his final police interview, Torbenson said, Allen is seen alone in the interrogation room, holding his head in his hands and saying, repeatedly, "I'm so sorry, my son."

But defense attorney Anthony Cotton promised jurors a different view of the evidence from other experts, including one who studies false confessions. Cotton noted that in a quarter of cases where convicted offenders have been cleared by DNA evidence, they had falsely confessed to crimes.

Cotton said the pair of intense interviews Allen was subjected to right after his son was hospitalized in October 2012 were exactly the kind that lead to false confessions. He said the detective provided facts relayed to him by doctors at Children's Hospital, and kept Allen talking until he described doing something to the child that would be consistent with the injuries. Only then would Junior's mother, who had also been arrested, be released "to go and pray over your dying child," Cotton said the detective told Allen.

Cotton suggested Junior's injuries could just as consistently be explained by his birth — two months premature — and compromised health.

He said no one around the couple, not even the baby's mother, will testify they ever saw Allen seeming depressed or overwhelmed, as he told a detective. In fact, staff from the neonatal intensive care unit where Junior spent a month before going home will say Allen was very attentive and appropriate with his son.

Later, the boy and his parents moved into a house with seven other people, and none of them saw any signs of depressions or abusive behavior in Allen, Cotton said.

"He loved his son," Cotton said of Allen. "He was not quick to anger."