"Absolute nonsense," Jones mutters as he glares at this article. "I doubt the authors are forensic pathologists or see actual autopsies. That their article is distributed by such a prestigious journal, that it gets promulgated. . . . It muddies the waters. To my way of thinking, there's no question you can shake kids to death, no question they are being shaken to death. It's nonsense to say they can't."
Jones has diagnosed shaken baby deaths eight times. He's interested in the shaken baby syndrome. He has researched retinal hemorrhages as a marker for the syndrome. He has made presentations on the subject at international conferences. He believes the diagnosis for shaken baby to be exactly as John Caffey described it. "You can see it," he declares. "If you adhere to the criteria, you can make the diagnosis."
For all these reasons, Jones did not respond warmly when Brennecke called him in September. If anything, he felt disposed against him. He agreed to review the Lehmer case, Jones would later say, "only because Rick Crowl asked."
Then, one morning in late September, he opened the Lehmer file for the first time. He read it once, twice, three times. Bennett's autopsy report stunned him. He couldn't put into words how much it stunned him. Jones saw no evidence of a shaken baby, no evidence of any trauma.
Single Centimeter of Blood Called Critical
Bennett was calling a single cubic centimeter of blood a subdural hemorrhage. That was one-fifth of a teaspoon. Give me a break, Jones thought. One cubic centimeter just didn't demonstrate an acute subdural. That amount could leak as you pop off the skull cap. You pull the cap, you can tear vessels.
Bennett described an area of bleeding beneath the skin in the back of the right side of the scalp. Jones studied the photograph taken of that area. It was badly out of focus, but even with a blurry picture, he could see a bleed if there were one. At best, this photo showed a normal, gray-yellow patch to be partially gray, a little red.
Jones lifted up another photo. This one showed small drops of blood on the inside of the skull cap. These also could routinely be collected when you removed the skull. Again, Jones wasn't convinced.
Photo after photo, Jones turned through the pile before him. He couldn't see how Bennett possibly had made his diagnosis. Jones wasn't at the autopsy, but he had the photos, and gross brain bleeds would be easily visible. There just was no evidence here to support a "shaken-slammed baby syndrome" diagnosis. He knew for sure this wasn't a shaken-slammed baby.
Jones felt disappointed. It seemed to him that Bennett's zeal cast doubt not just on that man's own diagnoses but also on legitimate shaken baby cases. He feared that Bennett's work could raise doubts about whether doctors can diagnose this syndrome.
Here finally was the most effective catalyst behind the challenge to Bennett: Not the self-serving outrage of a defense attorney, not the scoffing dismissal of those who insist they've never seen shaken baby deaths, but the frank dismay of one who knows that caretakers do kill children.
Jones reached for the phone. It was late on Sept. 24, a Thursday. He punched in Rick Crowl's phone number.
"This is not trauma," the pathologist told the prosecutor. "This absolutely is not shaken-slammed baby syndrome. This is SIDS. These people are innocent. They should not spend another day in jail."
'Unique' Way of Diagnosing
For a time, as the shaken baby controversy unfolded in Iowa, it was possible to regard the challenges to Thomas Bennett as evidence of personal animosity. His two former deputies, Francis Garrity and Peter Stephens, had often clashed with him. They complained that Bennett ran his own fiefdom. Garrity can't stand Bennett; Stephens says, "I don't respect the man."
Yet in the end, this undeniable rancor couldn't explain the conflict. There were too many experts disputing Bennett from all perspectives, many with no personal connection to him. Even the staunchest believers in shaken baby syndrome were balking.
One of those, the respected St. Louis medical examiner Mary Case, let it be known in August--just weeks before Jerry Jones reviewed the Lehmer case--that she felt Bennett had a "unique" way of diagnosing shaken baby syndrome. "He's looking at normal brains at autopsy and seeing tears in the tissue that he says resulted from shaking. As far as I know, he's the only one who is doing it that way. . . . I see the microscopic tears he's talking about. Those are artifacts. You see them all the time. They mean nothing."