Jennifer Del Prete was a daycare worker who maintained her innocence throughout her entire ordeal. She was convicted of shaking four-month-old Isabella Zielinski after the child fell unconscious in her care. She never woke up from a coma and died in the hospital 10 months later.
During Del Prete’s trial, prosecutors insisted that it was a classic case of violent and intentional shaken baby syndrome (which is now officially known as “abusive head trauma”), and they had the medical experts to “prove it.”
Now, however, U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly, who ordered Del Prete’s release, is not convinced of the shaken-baby verdict, or even that the typical symptoms that are used to diagnose it are sufficient to prove a person guilty of child abuse or murder.
As reported by the website Care2.com:
In a comprehensive 97-page opinion, Kennelly draws attention to the controversial science behind SBS, going so far as to suggest: “a claim of shaken baby syndrome is more an article of faith than a proposition of science.”
Kennelly’s ruling is being considered groundbreaking in some circles, because for the first time it condemns the shaken-baby diagnosis, which has been upheld in scores of courtrooms and has been used to convict hundreds of people on charges of child abuse and murder, as unreliable.
Since the 1990s, the website reports, more than 1,000 cases of shaken baby syndrome (SBS) have been heard in court. Between half and three-quarters of these cases have relied on an SBS-associated triad of symptoms as the only medical evidence “proving” the crime.
The triad — subdural hemorrhage (or bleeding surrounding the brain), retinal hemorrhage and swelling of the brain — has been used by prosecutors as irrefutable evidence that determines almost all important aspects of the case, such as how the child died (from being shaken violently), who did the shaking (the last person with the child) and what the state of mind was for the murder at the time (angry and intentional).