It is interesting that there is no mention of shaken baby prevention efforts, either in the Sacramento area or elsewhere, especially given California's budget problems.
At one point, the statement is made that the cost of treating an average SBS survivor is about $300,000, and California has about 150 cases a year. Medicaid pays for about 40% of births nationwide, so if the state is probably paying about the same percentage for treating SBS cases.
Fresno family fights for 'Adam's Law' - Family backs a tough bill for those who inflict serious injuries on a child younger than 8.
By Pablo Lopez / The Fresno Bee
It was supposed to be a happy time in Adam Carbajal's life. He had just turned 1.
But a day after relatives celebrated the Fresno toddler's first birthday in November 2004, he was shaken so violently by his mother's boyfriend that he still can't walk or talk today. Relatives say Adam, now 5, needs around-the-clock supervision and a wheelchair for the rest of his life.His attacker, Ramon Curiel Jr., will be out of prison in about five years.Adam's family says that's not justice -- and that is why they're fighting for a state law that would increase punishment for anyone who inflicts serious injuries on a child younger than 8.
Present sentencing guidelines call for up to six years in prison for child abuse, although more years can be added for additional charges. Adam's family wants to make sure child abusers will receive 15 years to life in prison if the child suffers permanent brain damage or paralysis."I want to believe Adam's injury happened for a reason," Adam's grandmother, Maria Alvarez-Garcia, said recently as she fought back tears.
But the family's mission has hit roadblocks.
Clovis lawmaker tries to help
A year ago, Assembly Member Mike Villines, R-Clovis, introduced what he calls "Adam's Law," but the bill stalled in a Senate subcommittee. A Democrat-led Public Safety Committee stuck to a policy of shelving crime bills until the state reduces costly prison crowding.
Villines has introduced the bill again this year. He has again asked Adam's grandparents -- Alvarez-Garcia and Alfredo Garcia -- to testify in front of state leaders. "It's not that big of a cost, especially when we're talking about protecting children," Villines said. "It's our job to make room for these types of criminals."
The number of defendants who would be affected by Adam's Law statewide is unclear.But Esther Franco, executive director of the Fresno Council on Child Abuse Prevention, said children like Adam who suffer shaken-baby syndrome cost California taxpayers tens of millions of dollars every year because they require such intensive medical care. California hospitals treat about 150 shaken babies every year, at an average cost of about $300,000 per child, she said. "Most of these children will never again lead normal lives," she said.* * *California's Adam's Law also would help protect children, Franco said. Under current law, child abusers can receive the same sentence whether they break a child's finger or inflict brain damage and paralysis.
"Shouldn't the punishment fit the crime?" she asked.But the proposal has its critics. Some defense attorneys say the bill might result in life prison sentences in cases of accidental injury."Babies are so fragile," said San Francisco attorney Grace Lidia Suarez, who handled Curiel's appeal. "What happens if a baby accidentally falls on someone's lap and hit his head and suffers a serious brain injury? Should that person be sentenced to life in prison?"5% chance of survival
Adam's injuries were no accident, authorities say.
In 2004, Adam was living with his mother, Mari Delgado, and her boyfriend, Curiel. They had been living together for about eight months. Adam's family said they were unaware then of Curiel's juvenile record of burglary, drug possession, auto theft and arson.
A Fresno police report said Curiel was baby-sitting Adam on Nov. 8, 2004, while Delgado was at school. Adam was a healthy baby who was learning to walk and was saying words like "mommy," "no" and "sock," Delgado said recently.
About 20 minutes after she left home, Delgado said, Curiel made a frantic phone call to her and said: "Adam fell and he's acting funny." She told him to call 911.
An ambulance rushed the 24-pound youngster to a hospital, where doctors cut into Adam's head to relieve pressure around the left side of his brain. "They gave him a 5% chance of survival," Delgado said.
Adam had severe head injuries. Authorities believe Curiel shook Adam and hurled him against a wall, which would explain why the boy's skull is now flat on the left side. Adam spent six weeks in the hospital, including two weeks in a coma. Alvarez-Garcia was by his side every minute.
"She lost her job because of her commitment to Adam," Franco said.
But losing a job was nothing compared to what happened next, Alvarez-Garcia said.
From the hospital, Adam was put into foster care while Child Protective Services investigated his mother. After a few months, Adam began living with his grandparents while his mother took parenting classes.
Throughout this time, Curiel was telling authorities that Adam fell while trying to walk, court records show. Eventually, investigators determined the injuries were not consistent with a fall.
Curiel was arrested in the fall of 2005, nearly a year after Adam was injured. But he posted bail and evaded authorities for more than a year.He was finally taken into custody in February 2007. A month later, he accepted a plea agreement with the District Attorney's Office. By pleading guilty to child abuse, he would receive six years in prison, court records show.Adam's family said prosecutors never told them about the deal. They found out in court. "I was furious," Alvarez-Garcia said. "They were going to give him a slap on the hand."The plea deal prompted Adam's family to take the case public. Television cameras began capturing their grieving moments with Adam at home and their tearful pleas for justice in Fresno County Superior Court. "They sure got the attention of the judge," said Suarez, Curiel's attorney.
On June 15, 2007, Judge David Gottlieb looked over Curiel's plea agreement and rejected it. Under current state law, Gottlieb said the crime was worth 12 years in prison -- six years for child abuse and six years for inflicting great bodily injury on Adam.
The judge offered Curiel 10 years in prison. Curiel accepted it -- and admitted that he had inflicted Adam's injuries, though he never said exactly what he had done. But he said he had lied to investigators and Adam's family. Because Curiel can earn good-time credits in prison, he can be paroled in late 2014 or early 2015.
Suarez tried to get a lesser sentenced for Curiel at the 5th District Court of Appeal, but her motion was rejected.
"My client didn't burst into the home and attack Adam," Suarez said. "He made a mistake. He snapped. That shouldn't be a life sentence."
Raw emotions fuel coupleA big scar on Adam's head is a painful reminder to Adam's grandparents that his chances at a normal life are slim.Adam suffers seizures and has no use of his right arm and leg. He grunts when he wants something and uses his left arm and leg to drag his body around his home. He sleeps on a mattress on the floor of his bedroom because his family can't afford a bed that is designed for children with severe disabilities.Alvarez-Garcia said she and her husband are fueled by three raw emotions: hate for Curiel, anger at the criminal justice system and guilt for not protecting Adam. "I pray something good comes out of Adam's injury so these feelings will go away," she said.She said she has found solace in others who are going through similar pain, like Tara Schoemer of Sacramento.Schoemer's niece, Lillyanna, was 6 weeks old when her father shook and squeezed her in July 2004. Daniel Cruz confessed and was sentenced to nine years and four months in prison.Schoemer later adopted Lillyanna, who can't walk, talk or feed herself. "My daughter is serving a life sentence," she said. "Adam's Law would be money well spent."Schoemer and Alvarez-Garcia connected after Schoemer came across a Web site promoting Adam's Law. Since then, they both have testified in the state Legislature in support of the law."We help each other because the journey to get justice has been long," Schoemer said.
Alvarez-Garcia said District Attorney Elizabeth Egan has called her several times to assure her that Adam's Law will be adopted."It's a glitch in the system," Egan said. "I told her we're going to fix it."