State neglect kills child; stepparent blamed
Government doctor does nothing for child's seizures
"Red flag" of abuse on file causes fatal medical error
Evidence of seizures concealed from jury in medical-legal coverup
Absence of evidence of physical abuse is called evidence of "shaken baby syndrome"
My family has been through a nightmare beginning in July 1996. Tara Lonette Martindale died July 5, 1996. However the abuse did not come from the hands of her stepfather. The abuse came from the negligence of the mother and the Department of Human Services, who ignored and even covered up the fact that Tara suffered from seizures that plagued her from infancy.
A doctor provided by DHS suggested that Tara was merely getting mad and holding her breath to the point of passing out. That same doctor indicated in medical records that Tara had suffered abuse by the stepfather. He also stated that the abuse could be causing her seizures. However, the doctor was misled by the mother's false accusations of abuse by the stepfather. This is a fact because Tara's seizures started before the stepfather even met Tara and her mother. As a credit to that doctor, she did not rule out an organic brain problem and suggested an EEG should be performed. This was done but brought no answers for Tara's seizures. So Little Rock Children's Hospital suggested a MRI be done. The mother in reckless disregard declined to have it done, and DHS, who was supposed to be helping and protecting Tara let this happen.
The supposed abuse came from the mother's false accusations during a divorce, so Tara's medical records were "Red Flagged" for abuse. This ultimately caused Tara's death.
July 3, 1996, Tara's birthday, she had a seizure, like many others but this one she did not survive. She was taken to the hospital comatose and unresponsive. There the stepfather told them she had a seizure. The doctors pulled her records, and since the mother neglected to get Tara medical attention in the past there was only an EEG for seizures which showed little and a red flag for possible abuse. The doctors, being misled by the red flag of DHS, decided that the stepfather was lying and that the blood inside Tara' s head came from abuse. The stepfather, distraught by his stepdaughter's condition and facing suspicious doctors yelling at him that she may die, now finds himself explaining a seizure to doctors certain they were looking at a head trauma. The doctors decided this was trauma and rushed her to surgery for what they called a small subdural hematoma.
The doctors started aggressively questioning the parents. Did she fall? Have you hit her? She had fallen from the bed days earlier, but that had nothing to do with the seizure. Tara' s condition worsened after the operation. DHS and Sheriff's Department was notified by the doctors. They further questioned the mother at the hospital and she told them that she was sure the stepfather had done nothing to cause this injury. After that the stepfather and their three-year-old son were took to the police station and questioned separately (Yes, no family member was with the three-year-old) . The doctors kept pressing on the abuse theory. They told the police that it was "Shaken Baby Syndrome" since there was no apparent outside reason(bruising or broken bones).
Tara died July 5 when the doctors took her off life support, with the family present and praying that she would live. The prosecutor told the papers that the death was possible abuse. They threatened the arrest of both parents. DHS took the couple's remaining son and placed him with the stepfather's sister. They started testing this three-year-old for abuse. This included nuclear medicine being injected into his system. When all was said and done there were no signs of abuse and no indication that therapy was needed. This testing brought more pain and suffering to the whole family.
A court appointed attorney subpoenaed Tara's medical and DHS records from the prosecutor. The mother, reading the DHS records, finds herself to blame tells the stepfather that they would arrest her for not getting Tara help earlier. The stepfather, reading the same information, blamed her also, but was still trying to stand by her. The loss of both children became too painful to bear and the two began fighting over the fact that the stepfather was being blamed by things she had done out of spite and lack of caring to the point the stepfather asked her to leave. She did only to return the next day. A week followed and she left after seeing in the paper that the prosecutor was deciding what charges would be filed on the parents. The stepfather was arrested three days later finding out then where she had went. The prosecutor gave her immunity to testify against an innocent stepfather for something she had done. The stepfather spent approximately two and 1/2 weeks in jail before the family could get enough money to get him out on the $50,000.00 bond that was set. Two days before the bond hearing without any notice what-so-ever the three-year-old was took from the stepfather's sisters and put in foster care because the mother stated that she thought the family was turning him against her (something we would never do to him).
The family started fighting by searching through the medical records. What they found was disturbing. The doctors collapsed a lung with a indotracial tube and let it go. The surgeon who operated on Tara describes an AVM (Arterio Ventricle Malformation) in the same locations as the subdural hematoma. Searching through medical information on the Internet, the family members find that the AVM described by the surgeon in the surgeons report can cause seizures, swelling of the brain and bleeding confirming what the stepfather had told the local doctors.
Internet information can not be used in court. The lawyer told him he needed an expert witness. The stepfather could not afford one and the judge knowing the reason one was needed denied motion for the state to provide one, in the same instance the Prosecuting Attorney stood up and told the Judge that the state would pay for one of their choosing just so that the stepfather would not be able to appeal on that point. When the stepfather's court appointed attorney went with the Assistant District Attorney to visit with this "specialist" they only took selective medical records and did not inform the doctor that the child had a past history of seizures. On their return from the visit the attorney informed the stepfather that he needed to accept the plea bargain for 2nd degree manslaughter, which he refused to do. The attorney then tried to get the stepfather's own sister and brother-in-law to talk him into accepting the plea, telling them that the jury could come back with the death penalty. When it was time to go to court on charges of manslaughter, the accused stepfather subpoenaed the surgeon. His public defender told him that the surgeon could not be there for medical reasons. The stepfather proclaimed he could not defend himself without that surgeon's testimony. The public defender explained this to the judge. The judge inquired as to the type of medical reason the surgeon had to be unable to testify? It was told to the defendant that the surgeon had checked himself into a drug rehabilitation facility because he had a prescription drug problem. The public defender said he would not make a reliable witness at that time.
The prosecutor and the judge knew this information and helped cover it up by keeping the accusers out of court, so the medical records could not be entered into evidence. They made up the story of "Shaken/Slammed Baby Syndrome". They used their own expert witness (the specialist that was court appointed in the first place to the stepfather who was told at the time of the appointing that the state would not call him as a witness for the prosecution.) to instruct the jury that this was like a fall from a 10-story building. The child had no broken bones, no head fractures, no whiplash injuries to the neck muscles and no "controlled bruising". The jury never heard or saw medical evidence that would prove the stepfather to be innocent, and the jury convicted and sentenced him to seven years.
My brother is now waiting to hear if he can get a new trial on the Rule 37. It will be heard in front of the same Judge that told him during sentencing that he should be put to death, in his opinion, for the murder that he committed. The hearing is this Friday, June 4, 1999 at 1:30 p.m.
Update #1: On June 4, 1999 the Judge on this case recused himself after a bunch of excuses as to how he thought that he could here this case without showing prejudice etc.
Update #2: A new judge from the same district was assigned to hear the case with the date of September 30, 1999 being given.
Update #3: On Monday August 16, 1999 the paperwork showing a sworn affidavit that was signed from one of the jurors that heard the case was put on file and it was asked to be kept under seal. On Tuesday, the following day, it was put in the local papers. The reason this affidavit was so important was because the juror says that they where misled as to the sentencing and before the sentencing they where coreced by the judge to all agree to guilty. The first verdict that came through was 10 guilty, 2 not guilty. When the forperson left the room to speak with the judge herself, (in the mean time she also received a cellular phone call) she came back and told the jurors that if they all agreed to guilty then fine, if not the judge said that he would take over and sentence him to 10 years, $10,000.00 fine.
Update #4: On Wednesday August 18, 1999 my brother was woke up at 4:30 a.m. and transfered to the dianostic unit of the prison he is in. He has no idea why he is there or who asked for the transfer. We are just a little worried.
Update #5: On Thursday August 19, 1999 my brother's lawyer called the new judge assigned to the case and told him that he was not happy about that affidavit being released to the public. The judge apologized and said that it was a clerical error. Also at the first of the week he would be filing papers to recuse himself from the case.
Correct me if I'm wrong but doesn't all of this point to my brother's civil and constitutional rights being violated?
Story by Tracy Winningham
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