Wednesday, November 05, 2008

An article from Montana that once again points out the difficulty in prosecuting many SBS cases. One interesting aspect is that the case was tried in federal court, presumably because it took place on a reservation...

Jury acquits dad in shaken-baby case
Of The Gazette Staff

A federal jury Tuesday afternoon acquitted a Busby man accused of seriously injuring his infant son by shaking him.

The panel found Merlin Wade Littlesun Sr., 22, not guilty of assault resulting in serious bodily injury after deliberating about 2½ hours in the two-day trial.

As the clerk announced the verdict, about a dozen of Littlesun's family members and supporters jumped to their feet and applauded and cheered the verdict, prompting an angry rebuke from Chief U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull.

"Get them out of here," yelled Cebull, who stood up and pointed at the group. Courtroom security guards directed Littlesun's supporters out of the courtroom and the building. After the courtroom had been cleared, the judge dismissed the indictment against Littlesun and ordered him released from custody.

Littlesun testified Tuesday morning that he did not shake his son as alleged on May 10, 2006. Littlesun's testimony lasted barely five minutes, and he gave mostly yes-or-no answers. Littlesun said he was sleeping when he is alleged to have shaken his 4-month-old son, Merlin Wade Littlesun Jr., hard enough to cause head trauma. He drove the baby's mother, Nicole Fisher, and his son to meet the ambulance as it was coming from Lame Deer, he said. Then he returned home to get a diaper bag and baby supplies.

Under questioning by Assistant U.S. Attorney Lori Suek, Littlesun said he was aware of bruises on the baby and asked Fisher about it but did not call the police or get the bruises checked. He suspected Fisher caused the injuries because "she just looked down," he said.

Littlesun also said he told the FBI agent he took responsibility for what happened even though he didn't do it. He acknowledged that he didn't tell investigators he suspected Fisher of causing the injuries.

The prosecution's witnesses included Fisher, others who were present in Littlesun's residence at the time and doctors who treated the baby.

Dr. Richard Stevens, a pediatrician who treated the infant, said the boy is now doing "quite well" even though his injuries were life-threatening. He was flown to a Denver hospital, where pressure on his brain was relieved.

In closing arguments, Suek recalled Fisher's testimony that she saw Littlesun in their bedroom holding the baby in his arms and that his head was shaking violently. She told him to stop and left the room. She could hear her baby crying but was afraid of Littlesun, she said.

Fisher went back in a few minutes later, picked up her baby and was holding him when he began having a seizure.

Fisher initially lied to investigators and medical personnel about what happened because she was scared of Littlesun's family, Suek said. She told the truth after she moved out of the house about a year later, she said.

Defense attorney Robert Kelleher Jr. argued in closing that Fisher caused the injuries and that there were serious problems with her testimony. According to Fisher's account, it was about 20 minutes after she allegedly saw Littlesun shaking their son until they called an ambulance.

But defense witness Dr. Thomas Bennett, a forensic pathologist who has studied shaken-baby syndrome, said a baby would experience seizures almost immediately after being shaken, Kelleher said. Bennett also said it can take only a few seconds to shake a baby hard enough to injure its brain.

Fisher was a 17-year-old mother of an infant and also had a toddler at the time, Kelleher said. She was "multitasking," trying to get breakfast ready and walking around the house with the baby, he continued, and "it only takes a second for her to snap and do this to the baby."

He also discounted Fisher's fear of Littlesun and his family. Fisher was alone with the doctors at St. Vincent Healthcare, where her son had been transferred from Lame Deer, and had the opportunity to say Littlesun caused the injuries.

"She did not tell anybody. Why? Because she's the one who did it," he said.

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