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April 25, 2015

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Surgeon: Fatal injuries of 16-month-old consistent with ‘classic shaken baby syndrome’

Trial continues today for Henderson man accused of killing girlfriend’s baby daughter

Cody Geddings in Court

Accused of killing his girlfriend's 16-month-old daughter, Cody Geddings appears in Henderson Justice Court in on Monday, April 12, 2010. Launch slideshow »

The prosecution was expected to bring more witnesses Thursday in the child abuse murder trial of a Henderson man charged in connection with the 2010 death of his girlfriend’s baby daughter.

A Clark County jury was to begin hearing more testimony late Thursday morning in the trial of Cody Geddings, 26, who has been charged with murder and child abuse with substantial bodily harm in the death of Addison Weast, a 16-month-old toddler he was babysitting.

Addison died on April 2, 2010, of head and spinal injuries after being treated at University Medical Center.

Geddings, who has pleaded not guilty, has told authorities an accident caused the girl’s death. He claims the toddler knocked over a 145-pound acetylene gas cylinder tank, which fell on the girl’s head when she was with him in the backyard of his home on March 31, 2010.

However, on Wednesday, the prosecution’s first witness, Thomas Bellomo, a UMC emergency pediatric surgeon who treated the girl, said her injuries were inconsistent with that story.

Bellomo testified that, besides the blow to the head, the baby girl suffered retinal hemorrhaging, indicating evidence of damage caused by rapid acceleration and deceleration — which he said was most often seen when a baby was shaken.

“Usually when a heavy object impacts a skull, it impacts one small area,” he said. “You might not expect that large of skull fracture.”

Asked what would cause the injuries he saw affecting the girl, Bellomo said “the classic mechanism is what we refer to as shaken baby syndrome where a baby is held by the torso area and shaken back and forth, sometimes associated with an impact, as well.”

In his opening statement to the jury, Deputy District Attorney Michael Staudaher said that the state doesn’t dispute that the cylinder falling could have caused damage. But he said Geddings tried to cover up how the accident took place because he was concerned about its effect on a different child abuse conviction sentence he was facing.

And Staudaher said there also was a question as to whether the tank actually did cause the accident. Staudaher said the child abuse charge stems from Geddings not immediately contacting 911 to get emergency help for the girl — but making multiple calls after the injury to both Higgons and to his attorney.

However, Shana Bachman, Geddings’ public defender, told the jury the death was not a case of murder.

"It was a terrible and tragic accident," Bachman said. "And the state will not be able to show you a motive, it will not be able to show you a weapon, it will not be able to show you any evidence at all that this was a murder.”

Bachman said Geddings, because he was facing sentencing in a different child abuse case, was worried that no one would believe him that Addison’s injury was caused by an accident, so he initially made up a story that the girl hit her head when she fell from a crib.

Bachman said Jaime Higgons, the girl’s mother, believed Geddings. Higgons, who had asked Geddings to watch her daughter while she was at cosmetology school, was contacted by Geddings by phone and told the story about Addison falling from the crib.

When Higgons arrived to get her daughter, she took the girl to St. Rose de Lima Hospital. At first Higgons used Geddings’ story, saying Addison had fallen from her crib. But then she tried to protect Geddings by saying it was her, not Geddings, who was with Addison at the time, Bachman said.

Higgons eventually admitted that Geddings had been babysitting the girl. And when police questioned him, Geddings told them about the acetylene tank falling on her head, Bachman said.

After opening statements, with the jury out of the courtroom, one of Geddings' public defenders, Norman Reed, asked for a mistrial, saying that Staudaher stated an opinion during his opening arguments that wasn’t based on any evidence.

Reed also said he objected to Staudaher telling the jury that Geddings made three phone calls to an attorney after the accident, which he said past case law prohibits because contacting an attorney is a constitutional right. Reed said the fact that Geddings was trying to call his lawyer was prejudicial against Geddings.

Reed said it was also inappropriate for the prosecutor to comment in his opening statement on an expert witness that the defense planned to bring in to testify in the case.

However, Judge Douglas Herndon did not agree and allowed the trial to proceed.

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  1. "Bellomo testified that [...] the baby girl suffered retinal hemorrhaging, indicating evidence of damage caused by rapid acceleration and deceleration -- which he said was most often seen when a baby was shaken."

    I wonder how many babies he has seen shaken in order to come to that conclusion. In fact, retinal hemorrhaging is more common in accidents and natural causes than in non-accidental trauma.*

    Several years ago, that line of reasoning was often used to convict people of Shaken Baby Syndrome, but it has since been disproven in several studies, including the biomechanical studies.** In fact, these studies suggest that the retinal hemorrhaging is wholly unrelated to the shaking, but is in fact a result of cerebral edma. This "expert" has apparently not kept up with the current scientific evidence-based research on the subject. Sadly, his testimony may result in the conviction of an innocent man.

    *See Lantz, P.E. & Stanton, C.A. (2006). Postmortem detection and evaluation of retinal hemorrhages. American Academy of Forensic Science 271.

    **Ommaya, A.K., Goldsmith, W. & Thibault, L. (2002). Biomechanics and neuropathology of adult and paediatric head injury. British Journal of Neurosurgery 16(3),220--242.