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Testimony challenged in Pasco child abuse case

DADE CITY — There is no eyewitness to question on the stand, no other suspect to grill in front of the jury in the aggravated child abuse trial of Thomas Eugene Warren.

Instead, to keep his client out of prison, Assistant Public Defender Dillon Vizcarra put the medical science behind shaken baby syndrome itself on trial Thursday.

Could something else have left Warren's 3-month-old child near death in 2005, with blood leaking into the infant's brain, eyes and throat?

Could an old blood clot explain the swelling in the baby's brain instead of a fresh blood clot?

Could anything but the allegation that Warren violently shook his own child on April 1, 2005, explain the extensive and permanent injuries the now 3-year-old boy must live with?

No, no and no, answered the state's medical experts. And so it went on day two of the trial.

• • •

Jurors heard from doctors and a detective's audiotape of Thomas Warren.

The father denied he hurt his child, according to the detective's report, but also admitted that he slammed his fists into the mattress of the boy's crib hours before he found his son had stopped breathing.

In 2005, the victim's 3-year-old brother told deputies that Warren became frustrated with the baby because he would not stop crying.

The defense theory is that the infant was actually injured weeks before the father's arrest, when a small child accidentally kneed the 3-month-old in the head.

Vizcarra seized on earlier medical testimony that an old blood clot was discovered by surgeons who operated on the victim's skull to remove a fresh clot (another doctor had testified that dating blood clots is unreliable.)

That, along with a congenital condition, the defense theorized to the jury, could have led to the torn blood vessels found in the victim's brain and eyes — bleeding often associated with shaken baby syndrome.

"Is a chronic subdural hematoma …consistent with a knee to the head of an infant?" Vizcarra asked a witness.

Not unless the skull was also fractured, said Dr. Doug Hassel, director of the Pasco Child Protection Team.

"I think it's more likely from being shaken," Hassel testified. "We're not just talking about the presence of blood. There was evidence of brain swelling.

"That's a lot of injuries that you just don't see with an accident."

• • •

The defense called one witness: the family's old babysitter, Michelle Loo.

She testified her young daughter accidentally kneed the victim in the head weeks before the father's arrest while Loo was changing the infant's diaper. But she also testified that the child didn't show any symptoms of a serious injury. "So it was very slight and inconsequential?" asked Assistant State Attorney Manny Garcia.

"Objection," Vizcarra said.

The judge overruled him.

"He didn't cry long," Loo testified. "I comforted him. I held him. He seemed fine."

Warren will get the chance to take the stand today.

Jamal Thalji can be reached at thalji@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6236.

Testimony challenged in Pasco child abuse case 08/07/08 [Last modified: Friday, August 8, 2008 8:29pm]
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