Part I, Section I

Prosecutors build murder cases on disputed Shaken Baby Syndrome diagnosis


Mother acquitted of shaking a baby: ‘I would have committed suicide’

Part I, Section II

Doctors who defend shaking diagnosis dismiss scientific challenges


Prosecutor: ‘The public should know that this can kill’


The unsettled science of Shaken Baby Syndrome

Part I, Section III

Mother released from prison: ‘It hurts too bad to remember’


After five years in prison, a young mother is set free

Part I, Section IV

In Maryland, a baby collapses and a babysitter is blamed

Part I, Section V

Prosecutor to jurors: ‘Healthy babies just don't die’

Part I, Section VI

But that year, the case took a significant turn.


Babysitter once sentenced to 20 years in prison: ‘I’m not gonna say that I killed somebody’


A breakdown of the dismissed cases


Map: Parents and caregivers accused of shaking nationwide


Former medical examiner: ‘Alleged cases of pure shaking are unusual’

Part II, Section I

Doctors who diagnosed Shaken Baby Syndrome now defend the accused


Doctor who helped introduce the hypothesis behind Shaken Baby Syndrome: ‘I don’t think innocent people should be in jail’

Part II, Section II

A child abuse diagnosis raises questions, doubts


Accident reconstruction specialist: ‘We need to apply the science’

Part II, Section III

Engineers: Falls could be more dangerous than shaking


A biomechanical look at shaking


How much acceleration can be generated by shaking a 22-pound crash-test dummy

Part II, Section IV

Doctor: ‘What could be right about getting it wrong?’

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Shaken science

A disputed diagnosis imprisons parents

Doctor: ‘What could be right about getting it wrong?’

You are reading one part of an investigative series on the disputed Shaken Baby Syndrome diagnosis that has put people behind bars.

To Arden, the issue boils down to uncertain science.

Coming up as a young medical examiner in New York in the 1980s, he was taught that bleeding and swelling in the brain, in the absence of any other symptoms or injuries, was clear-cut evidence of shaking. He testified for the state in at least two dozen Shaken Baby cases.

Detail of a brain injury. (Photo by Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post)

Arden continued to support the diagnosis when he moved to the District in 1999 to take the helm of the city’s long-troubled medical examiner’s office.

He left after five years in 2003 when city officials complained about high staff turnover and management problems and several female employees accused him of harassment. Arden said the complaints were unfounded, leveled by disgruntled employees who had resisted reforms.

Arden opened a private practice in McLean, Va., and was elected to the executive committee of the National Association of Medical Examiners. He started reading new studies on Shaken Baby Syndrome. He learned that Lantz in North Carolina had found bleeding in the eyes of children who had died of natural causes and Plunkett in Minnesota had found bleeding and swelling in children who had fallen from playground equipment. Other studies found that some infants developed bleeding on the surface of the brain following full-term births.

Arden started testifying as a retained witness for parents and caregivers accused of abuse, including Damien Marsden, the father in Minnesota who faced three counts of murder.

In 2009, Marsden was home alone with his 4-month-old son, Rylin, while the baby’s mother went shopping. When she returned 30 minutes later, she said Marsden was just coming in from outside, where he had been grilling hamburgers. They said the baby vomited in his bouncy chair and turned limp.

Emergency workers rushed Rylin to the hospital, where a CT scan revealed a swollen brain, bleeding on the surface of the brain and a skull fracture. He died six days later.

Marsden said Rylin had fallen out of bed onto a carpeted floor the day before. But doctors concluded that Rylin’s injuries could not have come from the fall. A family doctor with training in child abuse said that Rylin had both “contact and “rotational injuries,” as well as a bruise on the inner ear, records show.

The medical examiner noted the baby had a retinal hemorrhage and a contusion on the back of his head, as well as the internal injuries, and concluded that Rylin had died of traumatic head injuries from a physical assault.

Marsden was charged with murder.

“It was a horrible experience to lose my child and then to get blamed for it,” he told The Post. “You’re basically guilty until you’re proven innocent.”

As the trial neared, Arden studied the autopsy report, medical records, slides of the baby’s brain and, most important, the CT scan of Rylin’s head. He found both fresh and old blood on the surface of the baby’s brain as well as signs of an impact injury.

“Invoking shaking/rotational injuries is both unnecessary and speculative,” he wrote in a report to Marsden’s attorney.

At the 2012 trial, the baby’s grandmother testified that the infant had been accidentally dropped onto a wood floor at her day-care center about a week before the collapse. Arden told jurors that Rylin had likely died from the two falls. Marsden was acquitted.

He’s now married to Rylin’s mother, working at an oil company and raising three children.

“My thinking has definitely evolved over time,” Arden said. “I haven’t joined the camp that says there is no such thing as Shaken Baby, but I am much more cautious and circumspect about invoking it.

“What could be right about getting it wrong?”

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