Free-Range Kids

Woman Will Be Tried Again for Shaken Baby Case From 1984

But shaken baby syndrome has become a doubtful diagnosis in the ensuing years.


A woman who plead guilty to shaking a baby 35 years ago has been charged with his murder upon his recent death at age 37.

Terry McKirchy, now 59 and living in Texas, was babysitting five-month-old Benjamin Dowling in 1984, in Florida. The parents came home to find the baby turning blue. At the hospital, he was diagnosed with shaken baby syndrome. McKirchy was charged with first degree attempted murder and aggravated battery.

She was six months pregnant at the time and accepted a plea deal whereby she would only have to go to jail on weekends until she gave birth, reported The New York Daily News. Benjamin was severely handicapped the rest of his life. His death triggered the new charges against McKirchy. She now faces a possible life sentence.

There's just one problem.

In the intervening decades, shaken baby syndrome has come under increasing scrutiny as an illegitimate diagnosis.

One recent meta-study, for instance, was titled "Insufficient evidence for 'shaken baby syndrome'—a systematic review." This study of studies found that the once-indisputable proof that a baby was shaken—the trifecta of brain bleeding, swelling, and bleeding behind the eye—could in fact be caused by many other issues.

Deborah Tuerkeimer, a professor of law at Northwestern University, has written extensively on the subject, and noted in a New York Times op-ed all the way back in 2010 that "bleeding in the brain can have many causes, including a fall, an infection, an illness like sickle-cell anemia or birth trauma."

She added:

The new understanding of this diagnosis has only just begun to penetrate the legal realm. In 2008, a Wisconsin appeals court recognized that "a shift in mainstream medical opinion" had eroded the medical basis of shaken baby syndrome. The court granted a new trial to Audrey Edmunds, herself a mother of three, who had spent a decade in prison for murdering an infant in her care. Prosecutors later dismissed all charges.

McKirchy, the former Florida babysitter, did in fact plead guilty to shaking the baby. At the time she told the Miami Herald: "I know I didn't do it. My conscience is clear. But I can't deal with it anymore." She would have faced 12-17 years in prison if found guilty. The discrepancy in potential sentences between taking a plea and going to trial is particularly enormous in shaken baby cases, says investigative journalist-turned-filmmaker Susan Goldsmith.

Goldsmith's documentary, The Syndrome, examines the disturbing willingness of courts and the public to believe a previously unheard-of crime—baby shaking—was suddenly pervasive. She likens it to the panic over Satanism. In fact, her film traces how some of the very same experts who had promoted the idea that day care centers were filled with child-raping Satanists went on to promote the idea that homes were filled with baby-shaking parents.

The result, Goldsmith says, is hundreds of parents and caregivers behind bars for the crime of shaken baby syndrome (or, as it has been rebranded, "abusive head trauma"). The exact number is impossible to determine, as the charges fall under so many different names: manslaughter, homicide, child abuse. Tuerkheimer has suggested the wrongful convictions are so numerous, each state should create an innocence commission to review all shaken baby cases.

But as it stands, says Goldsmith, "Anyone who brings a toddler or infant into an emergency room with some kind of neurological issue going on that they cannot explain—there's a good chance they'll leave the hospital in handcuffs."

NEXT: A New Florida Bill Could Criminalize Filming Cops on the Job

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  1. Shaken, not stirred.

    1. Now that’s a zinger Gumby!

      I prefer just on the rocks.

      As in smashing Mormon babies skulls on the rocks.

      1. Yet the Church of LDS will still baptize you after you have passed. So you will be forever Mormon in the afterlife, spending it with the Heavenly Father.

        1. You do know that Joseph Smith is a proven fraud right?

          The LDS perv god doesn’t exist.

          Don’t tell me your Mormon Gumby?

          I know you aren’t. Mormons don’t have a sense of humor.

          1. You do know that promoting killing rednecks and smashing babies on rocks is psychopathic right?
            Get professional help.

            1. Did you know Mormons aren’t people so it’s ok to kill them?

              Joking about it on the internet is ok too.

        2. Don’t worry about him. In the real world he’s a meek, submissive dweeb who nobody notices. Probably incel. But on the Internet, watch out!

    2. Beat me to it, dammit!

  2. Ah the plea bargin – you’ll get more of this as dem neo marxists take over and insist you admit your guilt, regardless of truth.

    1. What do you expect to see happen if True Patriot Real American Heroes like Trump & Co. regain power?

      1. How many people were held in prison without trial, without bail on a fake insurrection?

        1. You really do consider them political prisoners a la Cuba or North Korea, don’t you?

          What do you think should happen to them?

          1. The non-violent ones (most of them) should be let out on moderate amounts of bail; they have a right to a speedy trial. Most of them are likely at most guilty of misdemeanor trespassing if that.

          2. If they can be proven to have behaved like Antifa, then they should be treated like Antifa.

            1. That is, not arrested or charged. But they didn’t behave like Antifa – no arson, no assault and battery, and no looting.

      2. It has noting to do with Trump you moron. God get over it.

    2. I suspect there won’t be a plea bargain, but a public confession of treasonous thoughts and oath of fealty to The Science or to whomever is Lightbringer of the day. Then the sentence, not reduced.

  3. American Injustice System in action? I’ve read that about 90% of federal attorney ‘trials’ end in plea bargains. What happened to the jury of peers? Add the court system which seems to block cases procedurally, not by juries, and I wonder if we need to begin again. Is it true that roughly 1/2 of all the planets lawyers practice in the USA? I lived in Japan near a prefecture’s prison, very, very, surprising how few prisoners there seemed to be.

    1. Well, by the time you factor out the ‘insurance company negotiators’, we really don’t have all that many real lawyers.
      Ever see a lawyer ad where they will take a case other than ‘truck accident’, slip and fall. or auto injury?
      Ever see any of those lawyers in a real courtroom arguing guilt and innocence?
      Nope. They just send a letter to the insurance company asking for negotiations and pick out a nice round number, and take their cut.

    2. Justice is seldom served. Wins and losses are what count to lawyers in the Judicial system. Unwarranted and over charges are used to keep others in line. Just like hate crimes. If a crime is a crime, and there is a specified punishment for it, why does the motive matter?
      I would even say most hate crimes go uncharged. Someone that hates a boss or coworker. Someone that hates a spouses paramour. Someone that hates a neighbor. Those are real hate crimes, but you never see hate charges.

  4. This woman should feel free to plead not guilty this time, her guilty plea last time should be explained to the jury from the witness stand, and if the evidence from 35 years ago should be reevaluated in light of what we know about shaken baby syndrome now.

    Whatever they do to make local prosecutors so eager to indict should be tried at the federal level and leveled against . . . ahem . . . public servants.

    Lois Lerner, James Clapper, and James Comey haven’t been charged with anything. Hillary Clinton accepted money from foreign governments while she was the Secretary of State. Joe Biden’s son is selling art to anonymous bidders for $500,000 a pop, and Dr. Fauci is still the director of the NIAID.

  5. Just wait until the prosecutors introduce their evidence of the satanic rituals that were going on.

  6. It also seems a little insane that she’s being charged for something that happened more than thirty years ago. Isn’t there usually a requirement that the victim die within a certain time after the injury? After three decades, how do they propose to prove that her actions caused his death? This all sounds like a hell of a stretch. I wonder what office the prosecutor is planning to run for.

  7. Is that why the Shakers no longer exist?

  8. How can one be convicted of attempted murder AND murder of the same person? Surely there’s some kind of double jeopardy infringement there. If you live long enough for your attacker to be convicted of attempted murder and later die, it’s not murder. It’s just death.

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