Judge hears evidence in child's death
Father of shaken baby faces murder charge
EDWARDSVILLE - A judge will decide guilt or innocence in a child murder case in which the child died almost 10 years after the injury.
On Tuesday, Madison County Circuit Judge Richard Tognarelli heard a prosecution argument that the pneumonia that took the life of Taylor Nicole Rogers, 9, originated years earlier with a brain injury caused by shaking.
Defense attorney Lyndon Evanko argued the pneumonia that ultimately caused Taylor's death didn't necessarily result from her client's actions.
"It could have happened to any child out there," he argued.
But Assistant State's Attorney Susan Jensen said the child's pneumonia was linked to the shaking. She offered a highly complex series of reports that linked the pneumonia to the shaking, even though the child survived nine years.
A St. Louis County, Mo., medical examiner's report said the manner of death was homicide and the cause was traumatic brain injury and child abuse - specifically, delayed death due to blunt trauma.
Jensen said blunt trauma could include vigorous shaking. There were no external injuries.
Taylor was born healthy on Feb. 6, 1999, but then was shaken at age 10 weeks because she was crying.
Tognarelli presided over a "stipulated bench trial" of the child's biological father, Torrance "Tyrone" Rogers, who pleaded guilty to attempted aggravated battery to a child and was sentenced in 2001 to 15 years in prison.
At that time, the child's mother, Jodi Pinkas, gave an account of the incident that did not line up with the prosecution's theory of the case.
Pinkas said Tuesday she was wrong and sorry for what she had said.
"I just want to see justice for Taylor," she said Tuesday.
Had the defense used her testimony in 2001, Rogers might have been eligible for a 30-year sentence for aggravated battery of a child.
As it turned out, Rogers served about half of the 15-year sentence at Graham Correctional Center and was released. After Taylor died, he was charged with first-degree murder and has been held in the Madison County Jail in Edwardsville, awaiting trial on that charge.
Jensen said in an interview Tuesday that the normal double jeopardy rule does not apply in Rogers' case. She said the law allows a subsequent murder charge because the death adds a significant element to the original case.
Once Taylor became severely injured, her great-aunt, Debbie Dycus of Edwardsville, took over her care. For nine years, Dycus struggled to keep the child alive and relatively healthy, even though Taylor had lost 95 percent of her brain function.
Jodi Pinkas left Taylor with Dycus, but her visits became less frequent, and Dycus eventually took over care of Taylor. Dycus eventually formed a national support group for families of victims of shaken baby syndrome.
Pinkas said shortly after the child died in 2009 that she had tried to re-establish a relationship with her daughter but was unable to work things out with Dycus. She said Tuesday that she wants justice for Taylor's years of suffering and noted that she also has suffered.
Dycus testified Tuesday that care of Taylor became more complicated as the years passed, although the original injury was severe.
"They (doctors) were surprised she lived as long as she did," Dycus testified.
She said the child needed a machine to help her breathe, was blind and often had to go to the hospital for treatment of many illnesses.
She said she took Taylor to Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital in St. Louis with a urinary tract infection in January 2009. Later, the child developed pneumonia.
As she was waiting to take the child home with a breathing device, Taylor died, Dycus testified.
The cause was pneumonia "complicated by other medical issues," Dycus testified.
Much of the evidence in the case was "stipulated" - that is, the two sides agreed the evidence would be presented had there been a conventional trial.
Jensen read off a long list of problems from a report generated from interviews with several specialists. One of the factors listed was shaken baby syndrome.
"The brain injury made her more susceptible. Her body could no longer take it anymore," Jensen said.
Evanko produced a report from Dr. Shaku Teas, a pathologist who often testifies as a defense witness. That report questioned whether shaken baby syndrome could have caused the injuries. She said the child's many illnesses could have been caused by other factors.
"They are trying to hold my client accountable for something that could have happened to any child," he said.
Jensen, however, said Dr. Teas' report acknowledged the pneumonia could be traced to brain injury. She said Dr. Teas used words like "supposedly" to cast doubt on reports that the prosecution's evidence provided as fact.
Jensen claimed Dr. Teas' report displayed a bias and was full or errors that misstated the original test results.
Dycus said she temporarily has shut down the shaken baby syndrome website she operates to preclude prejudicing the murder case. She insisted that shaken baby syndrome is acknowledged as a valid cause of death by experts all over the world.
Jensen said the validity of the syndrome has been acknowledged in many courts, including courts in Madison County.
Read more: http://www.thetelegraph.com/articles/child-72905-taylor-dycus.html#ixzz20NGZufSR