Stafford man pleads guilty in death of infant son

By Tom Jackman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Stafford County man pleaded guilty Monday to manslaughter for shaking his 6-week-old son to death in their home last year.

The plea marked the latest outcome in a string of recent cases involving "shaken baby syndrome," including two trials in Fairfax County in which experts testified that babies could not be fatally shaken without evidence of other injuries.

In Stafford, baby Marcus Andre had numerous other injuries, and a Stafford prosecutor said that "medical evidence is overwhelmingly clear" that shaken baby syndrome is real.

Jason W. Andre, 30, called 911 early June 29 to report that his son was having trouble breathing at the family's home on Beech Drive in Stafford. The first sheriff's deputy to arrive performed CPR on the baby, Stafford Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney Eric L. Olsen said, then paramedics arrived and took him to Stafford Hospital Center.

From there, Marcus was flown to the pediatric intensive care unit at Inova Fairfax Hospital. "It was obvious to the doctors there," Olsen said, that "the baby had suffered severe brain injury. The baby was brain dead upon arrival."

Marcus, who was born May 14, was kept alive until July 1. He had a 2-year-old brother, Olsen said.

Marcus had two types of brain hemorrhages, Olsen said, subdural and subarachnoid, and he also had retinal hemorrhages, all key indicators of shaken baby syndrome. Olsen said X-rays showed that Marcus also had rib fractures that had occurred a week or two earlier. An autopsy noted bruises on his right shoulder and buttocks, a tongue laceration, a flattening on his head and a spinal cord injury, Olsen said.

In August, Jason Andre was indicted on charges of murder, malicious wounding and child neglect. When police searched Andre's home, Olsen said, they found a gun and the initial stages of a marijuana-growing operation. Andre had a prior felony conviction that prohibited legal gun ownership. He then was charged with being a felon in possession of a gun and attempting to manufacture marijuana.

Prosecutors agreed to reduce the murder charge to manslaughter, dismiss the malicious-wounding charge and reduce the levels of the neglect, gun and marijuana charges in exchange for a guilty plea, Olsen said. There is no agreement on the sentence, which Stafford Circuit Court Judge Charles Sharp will impose June 28. The child abuse charge has a range of two to 10 years, the range for manslaughter is as much as 10 years and there is a mandatory two-year term for possessing the gun.

Frank Salvato, Andre's attorney, said the plea agreement "represented a fair compromise, and my client accepted responsibility and is looking forward to a fair and just sentence."

In January, a Fairfax jury found a day-care provider guilty of child abuse for shaking a baby and sentenced her to more than 10 years in prison. But in March, another Fairfax jury acquitted a father of fatally shaking his baby. In both cases, experts testified about the validity of shaken baby syndrome.

Olsen said there were "only a few" doctors who "make a good living" by testifying against shaken baby syndrome. "Of the thousands of doctors who treat abused children," Olsen said, "they all know violent shaking can cause devastating and deadly injury to a child."

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