Damico & Stockstill, Attorneys at Law

Evidence lacking to charge Baton Rouge father with child's death

The public praises speedy arrests, charges and trials following the commission of a horrific crime. Society's urge for justice to be done demands fast answers. Pressure to get and punish "the bad guy" sometimes is so strong it taints the legal process that holds defendants innocent until guilt is proven.

A 5-year-old Baton Rouge child died earlier this month after suffering a seizure. The little girl's father was taken into custody after the release of a coroner's report that ruled the death was a homicide. The autopsy concluded the child's fatal seizure was linked to a stroke the girl suffered as a baby.

The girl was hospitalized in April 2008. Doctors at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital believed the stroke was related to shaken-baby syndrome. The Mayo Clinic describes the condition as a temporary or permanent brain injury caused by the abusive, forceful shaking of a baby or toddler. Brain cell death and oxygen deprivation are often the result.

No action was taken against the parents at the time of the stroke. The baby went home with her family. Baton Rouge authorities never received any complaints of child abuse during the girl's lifetime.

The child's father was charged with second-degree murder. The arrest warrant stated the 32-year-old man caused his daughter's death by shaking the child violently five years ago. The case was sent to an East Baton Rouge Parish grand jury.

There was no indictment. The grand jury determined there was insufficient evidence to prosecute the girl's father. The district attorney indicated the "no true bill" ruling stemmed from conflicts in medical proof and statements made by the parents to authorities.

Prosecutorial evidence must be strong enough to support every element of a criminal charge. A jury with reasonable doubt cannot convict a defendant of a crime. When the legal process works as it should, innocent defendants do not suffer penalties.

Source: The Advocate, "Grand jury declines to indict BR man in daughter’s death" Ryan Broussard, Aug. 07, 2014

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