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Father shook baby, prosecutors assert

DADE CITY — The left side of his brain, in the words of the prosecution, is "virtually dead."

As a result, his right arm works but his fingers do not. He can walk with a brace on his right leg but must drag his right foot. His vision is impaired.

He suffered a stroke — and he's only 3.

Authorities say the Wesley Chapel boy is the victim of shaken baby syndrome. His father, Thomas Eugene Warren, went on trial Wednesday charged with aggravated child abuse of his youngest son.

Warren is accused of violently shaking his son as a 3-month-old infant in April 2005, leaving him severely, permanently injured.

The child suffered not just torn blood vessels in the brain and eye, the telltale signs of shaken baby syndrome, but also a torn carotid artery in the neck.

Assistant State Attorney Manny Garcia told the jury this could have been a murder trial.

"I submit to you that (the boy) suffered at the hands of his father," the prosecutor said. "He's the one that inflicted these injuries. As a result of that, (the boy) could have died."

• • •

Thomas and Susan Warren saw the birth of their youngest in December 2004. It was Dad's turn to watch their two children on April 1, 2005.

It was bedtime for the older son, then 3, when Thomas Warren called his wife to tell her their younger son had stopped breathing.

The baby was taken to a Tampa hospital, where his injuries were diagnosed.

Thomas Warren later told Pasco sheriff's deputies that nothing physically happened to the baby while he was watching him.

But the older child told deputies he saw the father ball his fists and hurt his little brother by slamming them into the infant's crib. The father was upset that the baby would not stop crying, the older boy said.

Warren then "admitted to becoming frustrated with the victim's crying," according to a sheriff's report, and pounded the mattress — but not the baby, he said.

In June, Warren turned himself in at the county jail on the aggravated child abuse charge.

It was not his first arrest. He has charges of writing worthless checks, fraud and grand theft going back to 1982. In 1992 he went to prison.

He'll go back if convicted in this case. Warren, 51, faces a sentence of seven to 30 years.

• • •

Susan Martin Warren remembers handing off the children to her husband the afternoon of April 1, 2005.

Her son "was a typical baby," she said. "He actually fell asleep in the car."

Then she went to work as a social worker at University Community Hospital in Tampa. That night, she got a call from her husband.

"Stay put at the hospital," he told her, she testified. "Something's wrong with (the baby)."

At the hospital, Susan Warren already knew something was wrong.

"He just wasn't acting right," she said of her son.

The couple is estranged now. Life for their younger son, now 3 years old, is difficult.

He can move his right arm. He can turn a page with that pinkie.

But his thumb stays tucked in, his fingers curled around it.

He cannot grasp anything. He cannot pull up his pants. Potty training is hard.

His vision is impaired. He runs into a wall now and again, his mother said.

There are other obstacles, the mother said.

"Every time a child grows and his muscles grow," the mother testified, "everything he learns to improve his mobility and stretch his muscles has to be re-learned over and over."

• • •

Thomas Warren may take the stand in his own defense, Assistant Public Defender Dillon Vizcarra told the jury.

"Tom Warren did not hurt his son," the defense attorney told the jury. "He loves him."

Warren will deny he touched the child violently, the attorney said. Instead, the defense will argue that the child suffered an accidental blow to the head weeks before that could have resulted in the blood clot that surgeons had to remove from the boy's skull.

The defense also floated the theory that the boy could have a congenital condition that could lead to blood clots.

But the state's medical experts don't buy that.

Dr. William Brooks, director of the Hillsborough County Child Protection Team, reviewed the medical files and testified that it is a classic shaken baby syndrome case.

"This baby was shaken," the doctor testified, "shaken violently."

"The neck muscles are rather weak in a 3-month-old, they don't support the head very much," he explained. "As you know, you hold a baby by the head and neck at that age so the head doesn't flop around."

But when someone violently shakes such a vulnerable child, the doctor said, "the head flops around and that's how the carotid (artery) gets injured, how the subdural blood collects and the brain is injured."

The case continues today.

Father shook baby, prosecutors assert 08/06/08 [Last modified: Friday, August 8, 2008 8:21pm]
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