Dad JUSTIN A. COLLIBEE has been convicted in the shaking assault of his 3 1/2-month-old son. Sadly--and too typically---the mom was relying on dad on infant care during the day while she was working. Oh we sure need decent maternity leave policies in this country. Some men have the temperament and skills for day-to-day infant care, but a large number do not.
Father convicted in shaken baby case, faces up to 30 years
By AISLING SWIFT
Posted December 21, 2009 at 6:36 p.m.
It was a battle of medical experts over the near death of a 3 1/2-month-old East Naples boy two years ago as the boy’s father went to trial this past week.
A defense expert testified the baby hadn’t been violently shaken because there was no neck injury. He told jurors the baby’s injuries had begun at birth and could have been aggravated by something as simple as a burp or a grunt.
But prosecution experts were certain the boy’s father had shaken him. One, Dr. Jason Schulman, a Miami Beach pediatrician who’d examined “dozens and dozens” of acute subdural hematomas, testified he’d never seen one with a neck injury.
After a 1 1/2 days of testimony, it took two hours Thursday night before a Collier Circuit jury convicted 31-year-old Justin A. Collibee of aggravated child abuse with great harm, permanent disability or disfigurement.
Collibee stood in shock with defense attorneys Joshua Faett and Rexford Darrow as his mother burst into tears behind him. The baby’s mother, Michelle Murphy of Massachusetts, who initially believed in Collibee’s innocence but became a prosecution witness, wasn’t present for the verdict.
Circuit Judge Fred Hardt adjudicated him guilty and ordered a pre-sentence investigation by the state Department of Corrections, which will interview Collibee and recommend a sentence by weighing his lack of a criminal record with this crime and the baby’s injuries; they’re unknown because it’s too soon to determine with a 3-year-old child.
The judge then ordered Collibee held in Collier County jail until sentencing on Jan. 22, when the bartender faces a maximum of 30 years in a state prison on the first-degree felony.
Assistant State Attorney Steve Maresca, who prosecuted the case with co-counsel Mara Marzano, said the baby was lifeless when Collier Sheriff’s Cpl. Brian Wiedel arrived.
“He saved that baby’s life,” Maresca said Friday. “That child was not breathing and he performed CPR and saved his life. He’s a hero.”
Maresca called the defense expert, Dr. Ronald Uscinski, a neurosurgeon who has testified throughout the nation in many headline-grabbing trials, very controversial. He noted that his theories are in the minority — and there was no evidence of any problems at birth.
“I would call his opinion similar to the one by the people who denied the earth was round,” said Maresca, who used a map dotted with marks to show jurors all the states Uscinski had testified, usually for $10,000, in shaken-baby cases.
Darrow said he and Faett were very disappointed with the verdict.
“The state’s case was entirely circumstantial and our expert gave a plausible explanation for the injuries,” Darrow said Friday. “We will most likely be seeking an appellate bond and hope he spends as little time incarcerated as possible.”
But Collibee must be sentenced before they can do that. He was arrested four months after his baby was rushed to NCH North Naples Hospital, but has been free since posting $100,000 bond 2 1/2 weeks later, on Sept. 7, 2007.
At trial, the prosecution called five witnesses, including two medical experts, Wiedell and the baby’s mother, while the defense called Uscinski and Collibee.
During the trial, testimony showed:
Collibee, a bartender, took care of his son during the day and on April 26, 2007, Murphy fed the baby at 4:30 a.m. and left for work at 6:15 a.m.
At 9:30 a.m., she called Collibee to check on the baby, who was fine. But he called her at 10:30 a.m. to say the baby was having a seizure. She told him to call 911.
Wiedell arrived, got the baby breathing again and he was taken by ambulance to the hospital, where a CAT scan showed bleeding due to a subdural hematoma. He was airlifted to Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Hollywood, where doctors determined it was an acute subdural hematoma, meaning it was fresh and caused by non-accidental head trauma.
Doctors determined there was an acceleration and deceleration as the brain was shaken, causing veins to break — consistent with shaken-baby syndrome.
Uscinski, who disputes the syndrome exists without a neck injury, told jurors the baby was injured during delivery, going through the birth canal. The acute hematoma occurred while he was at home with his father that day, he said, possibly while the baby burped or grunted due to constipation.
But Maresca used Schulman and Dr. Allen Burkowsky to dispute that and explain the injuries seen in the CAT scan and MRI to jurors.
Collibee told jurors he’d done nothing to his son. But during closing arguments, Maresca contended he got frustrated that day and shook him, telling jurors: “Good people can do bad things.”
Jurors were unaware, but sheriff’s reports show he’d failed a polygraph exam.