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Opthamologist: Eye injuries show baby girl’s death caused by violent shaking

Trial to resume next week for Henderson man accused of killing girlfriend’s 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 »

A longtime eye doctor who examined 16-month-old Addison Weast says the girl’s injuries point to one cause.

"This is shaken baby syndrome until proven otherwise," said Marietta Nelson, a Las Vegas opthamologist who testified Friday in the child abuse murder trial of Cody Geddings, 26.

Geddings has been charged with murder and child abuse with substantial bodily harm in connection with injuries the girl suffered March 31, 2010, at Geddings' home in Henderson.

The trial, which has recessed for the weekend, will resume at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday before Clark County District Judge Douglas Herndon.

Geddings, who has pleaded not guilty, has told two stories about what happened. In his first story, he said the girl fell out of her playpen onto the floor.

He later changed his story. Geddings said what really happened was a large, heavy metal oxygen tank used in welding was on a wobbly chair in his backyard and the toddler moved the tank and it fell on her. He told police he was afraid to give that explanation at first, because he didn't think anyone would believe him because he was facing sentencing in a child abuse case involving his own son.

Geddings was caring for the girls while her mother, his girlfriend, Jaime Higgons, was at a cosmetology school. The girl died April 2, 2010, after undergoing surgery at University Medical Center.

"There was a lot of damage in both eyes, both retinal and preretinal. And preretinal hemorrhaging is very, very typical of a shaken baby," Nelson, who has been an opthamologist for 30 years, told the jury Friday. During her testimony, Nelson showed photos of the inside of the girl's eyes and used a plastic model of an eye to point out the area damaged.

Nelson is the second physician who examined the girl to testify this week that the girl suffered retinal hemorrhages. Both doctors said those eye injuries are almost exclusively caused by a rapid acceleration and deceleration of the brain inside the skull.

However, under cross examination by Geddings' public defender, Norman Reed, Nelson said that the medical community was split about whether retinal hemorrhaging is caused exclusively by shaking.

"I don't think you'll find very many young doctors in that camp you're talking about," Nelson said.

Reed told her it was evident that she was very strongly in the camp that believes it is caused by shaken baby syndrome.

"I finally came around to it, yes," Nelson said.

Medical personnel who examined Addison said the girl suffered a blow to the head and brain swelling.

Reed and Chief Deputy District Attorney Michael Staudaher both asked Nelson if a blow to the head could have also caused Addison's retinal damage.

Nelson said she had never seen a case where an accidental head trauma caused the same kind of damage that shaking — or slamming a baby into something — caused.

"I have seen kids, for comparison, who have had TVs fall on their head, fallen from three-story windows onto concrete and ... run over by a car — their head actually run over by a car — without any retinal hemorrhage," Nelson said. "Retinal hemorrhage is pretty rare in accidental trauma."

Nelson also said a child with hemophilia might be more prone to retinal hemorrhaging. And a child with leukemia might also be more prone to the injury. But she said in 30 years of examinations, she had never seen that kind of damage suffered by Addison in either of those types of patients.

"That preretinal hemorrhage really does not occur with any other diagnosis," she said. "So when you see the preretinal hemorrhages, that is pretty much classic shaken baby."

Other witnesses testifying Friday included Stephanie Wilson, a crime scene analyst for Henderson Police, and Carol Garrett, manager and financial director of the Academy of Hair Design.

Wilson testified about photos and samples of evidence that she gathered from the home.

Under cross examination, Reed pointed out that she didn't gather fingerprints or DNA evidence of the large tank that Geddings claims fell on the girl, causing the injuries.

Garrett testified that Addison's mother, Jaime Higgons, was at the cosmetology school on the morning of the girl's death. Garrett had documentation that Higgons was at the school between 8 a.m. and noon.

Higgons had originally told authorities she was at home with the girl and the injury was caused by the girl falling out of a playpen onto the floor. Higgons said she was trying to cover up for Geddings and was telling authorities what he had told her happened. Gedding later told his second story about the large tank falling on the girl.

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