Investigation finds flaws in child abuse, child homicide cases: Part 1

An ongoing investigation by NPR, ProPublica and PBS Frontline has found serious flaws in the death investigation system in the U.S. According to NPR, a 2009 study by the National Academy of Sciences said that the system of death investigation was underfunded, lacked national standards, and did not have enough specialists to properly investigate deaths.

These problems, according to NPR, have led to the wrongful conviction of people for homicide, sexual assault and child abuse. The flawed investigations are particularly problematic in the death investigations of children because children’s bodies are still developing and react differently to diseases than adults and forensic pathologists may not be medically trained in pediatrics.

NPR says that they examined about two dozen cases where people had their child abuse or homicide convictions overturned because it was found that the original reports by forensic pathologists were flawed or biased.

NPR tells the story of a few of these people, including one woman who was wrongly convicted of killing a baby she was caring for by shaking the baby and violently hitting its head against something. Physician experts called by her defense team later helped have her conviction overturned by testifying that the baby had died of sickle cell anemia, which caused his bleeding on the brain that looked like abuse to the forensic pathologist.

They also tell the story of a man who is hoping to have his conviction overturned for the sexual assault of a baby he was babysitting. He has also been charged with murder because she died, but he has not been tried on that charge. He was convicted by a jury mostly based on medical evidence prepared by a forensic pathologist.

The next post will look more at this investigation and these two cases.

Source: NPR.com, “The Child Cases: Guilty Until Proved Innocent,” A.C. Thomson, Joseph Shapiro, Sandra Bartlett and Chisun Lee, 28 June 2011