Montgomery leads the way on prosecuting
Montgomery County, MD – Cases involving the deaths of very young children are not easy to prosecute. There usually are no witnesses, the medical information is often complicated, emotions are fraught, and it is always hard to believe that anyone — least of all those whose care the child has been placed in — would want to cause harm. So a trio of convictions in child deaths won by Montgomery County prosecutors over the past year is noteworthy, underscoring State’s Attorney John McCarthy’s priority in combating crimes against society’s most helpless.
“Trevor would have been 8 years old, he would have been in second grade. He would have had a joyful life. But now there are only tears and sadness and a void that his death left behind,” Assistant State’s Attorney Debbie Feinstein told the jury that this month found day-care provider Gail Dobson guilty of second-degree murder in the Sept. 3, 2009, death of 9-month-old Trevor Ulrich. It was the second time the Eastern Shore woman had been found guilty; an earlier conviction was overturned on the grounds of ineffective counsel, and the case became ensnared in an ongoing debate over the validity of Shaken Baby Syndrome and abusive head trauma.
Montgomery prosecutors, who took over the case because of conflicts by Talbot County officials, used Ms. Dobson’s conviction — along with the convictions in Montgomery last year of Moussa Sissoko (sentenced to life in prison with all but 50 years suspended for killing his infant son for $750,000 in insurance) and Adou Louis Kouadio (sentenced to 40 years in the murder of his 2-month-old son) — to make critical points: that dynamic head movement and impact can do great damage to young brains and those who might suggest otherwise do a great disservice.
“Junk science” was Mr. McCarthy’s characterization as he pointed out that the experts who “supposedly should have been called” in Ms. Dobson’s first trial were not allowed to testify in the second trial because they failed to meet the legal standard.
The possibility always exists that a person could be wrongly accused in a child’s death because of sloppy work by investigators or medical personnel. But testimony in Ms. Dobson’s case detailed the painstaking process — including the work of experts at Children’s National Medical Center — used to determine the cause of death and how investigators looked for other causes and tried to rule out abuse. The resources that Mr. McCarthy’s office has devoted to investigation of child abuse and deaths — including Ms. Feinstein’s development into a national expert — set a model that other jurisdictions should follow.