District Attorney discusses process of trying child abuse, death cases

District Attorney discusses process of trying child abuse, death cases
Published: Oct. 20, 2022 at 5:28 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - More than 20 child abuse and infant death convictions have been overturned in the United States since 2019. Experts say a diagnosis of Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS) is unreliable.

While none of those overturned convictions have come from New Hanover County, District Attorney Ben David says it usually takes more than a diagnosis to charge a parent with killing a child. He says prosecutors have to rely on what he calls “silent witnesses” in child abuse and infant death cases because there are often no witnesses, and children are too young to describe what happened.

“We have seen it all through the years where that Shaken Baby Syndrome, as it’s called, is corroborative of many other detailed records that show a long-term pattern of abuse,” said David.”

David says those signs of abuse include physical injuries like broken ribs or burns, and possible reports in a DSS file.

“That’s why it’s so important that with SBS or Shaken Baby Syndrome, what we’re looking for is: Is there other corroboration? Is there testimony of witnesses? Are there other injuries? Is there documented history of abuse? Is there something that would show that this is not just a sudden infant death, but is something that in fact could be murder?” David said.

David says of all the child fatalities in New Hanover and Pender Counties, half of the victims are less than one-year-old.

“What we’re looking for, again, are what we call the silent witnesses that scream the truth: What’s in the bloodstream of the parents? What’s on the phone? These things can exonerate, not just convict, but then you look at medical injuries to the child. Is there a pattern of abuse or is there other documented injury or illness?” said David.