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Mom accused of shaking son goes on trial

Published: Wed, December 3, 2008 @ 12:10 a.m.

By Ed Runyan

The defense team interviewed a Washington, D.C., brain surgeon to rebut a local doctor’s testimony.

YOUNGSTOWN — A tearful Sarah Shumar testified that she refused a plea bargain in a shaken-baby case involving her 11-month-old son because, she said, “I don’t want to make a deal and lose my children.”

Shumar, 23, of Oregon Avenue, went on trial Tuesday on a charge of endangering children after doctors determined that her son suffered a permanent brain injury in late March from shaken-baby syndrome.

“If I don’t have my children, there’s no reason for living,” she said, referring to her 4-year-old son, as well as the now-18-month-old who suffered the injury. Both are living apart from her, the older boy staying with Shumar’s mother and the younger boy in foster care.

Shumar’s defense team called on a Washington, D.C., brain surgeon who testified that the injury didn’t come from being shaken and might have been the result of an injury the boy suffered during birth or from seizures.

Meanwhile, under questioning by one of her attorneys, Heidi Hanni, Shumar discussed the heroin addiction that gripped her from the time she was a 15-year-old student at Boardman High School until about a year ago and said she “really hated” herself for abusing drugs while pregnant with both boys.

Closing arguments will be given today in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court before Judge Charles J. Bannon, who is hearing the trial without a jury.

If convicted, Shumar faces up to eight years in prison.

J. Michael Thompson, an assistant Mahoning County prosecutor, called one witness, Dr. R. Daryl Steiner, director of the Children At Risk Center at the Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Akron.

Dr. Steiner said brain scans done at the hospital showed that fresh blood on one of the outer layers of the brain — known as a subdural hemorrhage — had occurred within a couple of days of a March 29 examination.

He said that such an injury is “consistent with a shake injury” and that he thinks the brain damage came from the baby’s being shaken.

The right side of the baby’s brain is “dead” as a result of a reduction in blood flow, Dr. Steiner said. Whiplash or shaken-baby syndrome can cause such a restriction in blood flow, he said.

The brain damage has led to disabilities on the boy’s left side, giving him trouble with walking and use of his left hand.

Under cross-examination by defense attorney David Betras, Dr. Steiner testified that the baby is among only about 20 percent of shaken-baby cases in which there are no signs of injury to the baby’s neck.

“There was not a scratch or bruise on him, right?” Betras asked. “Right,” Dr. Steiner said.

Betras noted his client weighed only about 100 pounds in March. He asked Dr. Steiner whether it was possible for such a small woman to injure a 20-pound baby badly enough by shaking him to cause this type of injury.

“It’s not up to me who did it,” Dr. Steiner said.

Betras and Thompson questioned defense witness Dr. Ronald Uscinski, a brain surgeon, near his home in Washington, D.C., in September. The videotaped interview was played during the trial.

In it, Dr. Uscinski testified that he doesn’t believe the baby’s brain injury came from shaken-baby syndrome because he doesn’t believe such an injury is possible without there also being a neck injury.

He said the bleeding could have come from a chronic condition that may have started at birth and could have led to spontaneous bleeding at any time — without anyone abusing the child.

Shumar testified that the boy suffered several seizures since his birth, including March 28, the day she called for an ambulance.


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