The defense’s expert witness spent Monday afternoon in DeKalb County court trying to disprove that Katie Petrie shook a 6-month-old, causing permanent brain damage.
“I have no clue how someone could shake half of a baby’s brain,” Joseph Scheller, a child neurologist from Baltimore, testified Monday.
About three years ago, Ryker Newhouse was in Petrie’s care at her Cortland home and day care, when prosecutors said she violently shook him, causing injuries resulting in likely permanent brain damage. Petrie, 36, of the 900 block of 14th Street in DeKalb, could face six to 30 years in prison if convicted of aggravated battery to a child.
Petrie’s defense claims that whatever caused Ryker’s brain injury, it was not shaking, but an impact with a solid object, which could have occurred days before Dec. 15, 2015, when Petrie reported the child was having a seizure at her home.
Scheller blamed an impact injury for Ryker’s developmental setbacks, impaired vision and limited use of his right arm. He showed images of CAT scans taken of Ryker’s brain Dec. 15, 2015, and explained how an impact would have caused a subdural hematoma that hugged the left side of his brain but ultimately left the right side unharmed.
“The left side suffered and withered, due to lack of circulation,” he said. “Unfortunately, it doesn’t recover when it’s suffered this degree of atrophy or withering.”
He repeated that Ryker being shaken was out of the question.
“You can’t shake half the brain,” Scheller said. “I have no clue how someone could shake half of a baby’s brain.”
He likened it to shaking a jar with an apple in it.
“The skull is the jar,” he said. “The brain is the apple.”
Doctors testified Nov. 14 for the prosecution – DeKalb County State’s Attorney Rick Amato and First Assistant State’s Attorney Stephanie Klein – that the left side of Ryker’s skull had been fractured.
Scheller said a hematoma – a swelling of clotted blood – caused by such a fracture could have happened a couple of days before symptoms presented.
“You know [Ryker’s injury] happened relatively recently, but you can’t date it exactly,” he said.
Under cross-examination, Klein pointed out that Scheller did not treat Ryker, and that he had to review about 4,500 pages of records and dozens of images to draw his conclusions, which he reported he arrived at in five or six hours. She pressed Scheller that there are many ways a baby can be shaken. “You could shake a baby and slam it down to the ground,” she said.
“That’s correct,” Scheller said.
She also asked him why he didn’t include in his report that a skull fracture makes suffering a hematoma more likely.
“I didn’t think it was that important,” Scheller said.
On Nov. 14, in addition to doctors, prosecutors called Ryker’s parents. They testified that Ryker had a cold leading up to Dec. 15, 2015, but that he was happy that day. A video was shown of Ryker giggling and smiling at his mother about 36 hours before prosecutors say Petrie caused Ryker irreparable harm.
Witnesses established last month that Ryker took a nap then ate well Dec. 15, 2015, before he threw up, causing Petrie to grab some wipes, and she said that when she turned back to Ryker, he was having a seizure.
Scheller was the only witness to take the stand in Petrie’s defense. She opted not to testify.
The defense rested about 4:15 p.m., and the prosecution, which had rested Nov. 15, recalled Rockford-based pediatrician Raymond Davis, to rebut Scheller’s testimony.
Davis testified, as he did Nov. 14, that the nature of Ryker’s hematoma suggests it was caused by his brain repeatedly accelerating and decelerating. He said in many case studies, nerve damage has occurred, but hasn’t been detectable by a CAT scan.
Under cross-examination by Petric’s lawyer, Peter Buh, Davis testified that it also is possible for a shaken baby to suffer damage to only half the brain – a direct rebuttal of Scheller’s testimony.
Amato said closing arguments will be made Tuesday afternoon, and a verdict is expected from DeKalb County Judge Philip Montgomery on Wednesday.
“I know we’re all anxious to see a conclusion to this trial,” Montgomery said, “but I’m going to take time tomorrow after closing arguments and make my ruling at 1:30 Wednesday.”
A Cortland woman, who was found guilty of causing brain damage to a child, will be sent to prison for around a decade after prosecutors alleged two other children had broken bones after being in her care.
In DeKalb County Court on Tuesday, our sister station WLBK reports Judge Philip Montgomery sentenced 36-year-old Katie Petrie to 11 years in prison.
She could’ve received up to 30 years after being found guilty in December of Aggravated Battery to a Child. While it’s not known if then-six-month-old Ryker Newhouse was shaken, hit or thrown, the boy has needed multiple surgeries since being taken to the hospital from Petrie’s at-home daycare in 2015, including another surgery just last month.