Investigation sheds doubt on a 'shaken-baby' murder conviction

December 14th, 2012 by Wendy Leopold in Health /

(Medical Xpress)—Based on developments in science and interviews with numerous medical experts, an in-depth investigation by Northwestern University's Medill Innocence Project raises significant questions about the murder conviction of a Chicago-area licensed day care provider in the death of a young child nearly two decades ago.

Published online today (Dec. 11) at www.medillinnocenceproject.org, it is the Medill Innocence Project's first published investigation of a shaken-baby syndrome case.

Pamela Jacobazzi, now 57, is serving a 32-year prison sentence for the death of Matthew Czapski. At the time of her conviction, shaken-baby syndrome was a largely uncontested diagnosis associated with a triad of symptoms: brain bleeding, brain swelling and bleeding within the eyes. When all three signs were detected, authorities often accused the last caregiver of abuse, believing the symptoms surface instantly and catastrophically.

"In recent years, however, a number of have shown the triad of symptoms may also arise from less sinister causes," said Alec Klein, director of the Medill Innocence Project and professor in the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications.

Ten undergraduate journalism students in a fall investigative class led by Klein consulted with medical experts, reviewed studies conducted over the past several years and interviewed Jacobazzi's family, neighbors and former clients. They made five requests and obtained thousands of pages of court records, police reports and hospital, pediatric, medical examiner and children and family services documents.

They found:

Jacobazzi was convicted of first-degree murder on May 18, 1999, and is incarcerated at Lincoln Correctional Center in Lincoln, Ill. After losing a series of appeals, she is seeking a new trial; an evidentiary hearing is scheduled in May to consider her request.

The Medill Innocence Project is also working to create the nation's first shaken-baby criminal case database available to the public. As increasingly question the traditional understanding of shaken-baby syndrome, the specter arises that parents, nannies, day care providers and others may have been imprisoned, based on medical thinking at the time, for crimes they did not commit.

Provided by Northwestern University

"Investigation sheds doubt on a 'shaken-baby' murder conviction." December 14th, 2012. http://medicalxpress.com/news/2012-12-shaken-baby-conviction.html