Tragic Case of Shaken Baby Syndrome Rooted in “Flimsy” Science: Expert

Loyola Law School's Project for the Innocent is working to overturn the case of a grandmother sentenced to 25 years in prison in the death of her grandson

A woman whose child died while under the care of his grandmother, leading to the grandmother's incarceration, hopes experts can overturn her conviction.

Raquel Mendez's 9-month-old son Emmanuel died from traumatic brain injuries. Prosecutors alleged he was attacked by his own grandmother in a case of shaken baby syndrome. The grandmother, Maria Mendez, was convicted in 2009 of assault on a child resulting in death. She was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

"It wasn't her - it couldn't be her," Raquel Mendez said. "My mom loved kids."

Professor and former prosecutor Laurie Levenson, who is working to help overturn the grandmother's conviction through Loyola Law School's Project for the Innocent, said the case was rooted in "flimsy" science.

"Shaken baby syndrome is not a science, it's voodoo." Levenson said. "We have way too many people who are convicted by this so-called syndrome that does not stand up to the science today."

Researchers have found that an adult cannot produce the force or strength to shake a baby to death.

Dr. Mark Krieger, the head of neurosurgery at Children's Hospital Los Angeles, said that there are no clear indications of shaken baby syndrome, even after performing a physical exam on a child and taking at MRIs.

"In my mind there is no one sign that points to abuse or shaken baby syndrome," said Krieger, who did not treat Emmanuel Mendez.

Krieger said the child's overall health and family dynamic should be considered before making an abuse accusation.

Raquel Mendez said her mother, who raised 10 children, never abused her or her siblings as children.

"There was never domestic violence. She was just a caring mother to us," Mendez said.

Levenson said prosecutors blamed the grandmother because she was with the baby before he stopped breathing. Levenson also said prosecutors erroneously dismissed the baby's earlier injury - which occurred when he was not in the grandmother's care - when the baby fell off a bed onto a concrete floor.

"I think it's just a tragic accident. We always want a villain, a culprit," Levenson said. "Even though everyone hates that a baby died - that's a tragedy. It doesn't necessarily mean there was a crime."

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