WOODLAND — A Woodland man accused of fatally injuring his infant son took the stand in his own defense Tuesday, repeatedly fighting back tears as he described the final month of his young son’s life.
Three-month-old Samuel Stone died in October 2012 of what prosecutors contend were traumatic head injuries consistent with ongoing abuse — abuse they allege came at the hands of Sam’s father, Quentin Stone.
Stone, 40, has pleaded not guilty to felony and misdemeanor child endangerment charges handed down last August in a Yolo County grand jury indictment. His trial began April 21.
Stone’s defense has maintained that Sam’s injuries were the result of possibly being pulled off a bed by his toddler brother a month before his death, and that the family’s doctors attributed the baby’s subsequent episodes of vomiting and limpness to acid reflux rather than head trauma.
On the stand Tuesday, Stone described walking through his front door on Sept. 5, 2012, and seeing then-2-month-old Sam lying face down on the floor of the master bedroom, just a few feet from where Stone said he had placed him — in the middle of the king-size bed — just minutes before.
Stone said he had placed Sam on the bed while he went outside to collect and put away a stroller and close the garage door. Inside the house at the time were Sam’s twin brother, Hank, who was asleep in another room, and his older brother Jack, then about 2 1/2.
Stone said he was outside for just “a couple of minutes” before returning and seeing Sam on the floor.
“I rushed to him and I picked him up and held him in my arms,” Stone said, stopping several times to compose himself.
“I massaged his arms and legs and back. I put him on my shoulder and patted his back.”
Sam was not crying, Stone said. His eyes were closed and his breathing was labored, “a low humming” that Stone said he had never heard before.
After holding him and pacing through the house for several minutes, Stone said Sam began to open his eyes and breathe normally again.
That’s when he called his wife, Sara, who was coaching soccer.
“I called her to let her know Sam had fallen and that I was worried about him and I wanted her to hurry and come home,” Stone testified.
When his wife returned minutes later, the couple took Sam to their next-door neighbor, a former firefighter, to get his advice on what they should do.
While the neighbor didn’t see anything wrong, Stone said, he did urge them to take Sam to the emergency room to be sure.
Stone then described taking Sam to Kaiser Hospital in Vacaville, where a doctor checked him over, reported seeing nothing wrong, and sent them home, where Sara and her mom, Nancy Yudin, were waiting.
Yudin, Stone recalled, said, “Lesson learned … meaning not to leave children alone.”
Asked by his attorney, Deputy Public Defender Martha Sequeira, if he felt bad about leaving Sam alone on the bed, Stone replied, “I think about it every day.”
Episodes of Sam projectile vomiting and periodically going limp followed over the next week, prompting email exchanges between the Stones and Kaiser pediatrician Dr. Yvonne Otani as well as a follow-up visit to the Davis Kaiser clinic where Stone was advised to change Sam’s feeding routine — feeding him smaller amounts more often. Medication for acid reflux was prescribed.
But no tests were ordered to rule out a head injury, Stone testified.
A second incident
On Oct. 3, 2012, Stone was again home with the three boys while his wife was at soccer when Sam once again went limp, and this time did not recover, Stone testified.
Stone described checking on Sam and finding him in his infant swing, his head slumped forward “and I could hear the labored breathing” — the same type of breathing he’d heard before, Stone said.
He took him out of the swing, swaddled him, held him and massaged him, but “nothing was changing,” Stone testified, so he called 911.
Paramedics arrived and took Sam first to Woodland Memorial Hospital and later to the UC Davis Medical Center, where an EEG showed Sam was having repeated seizures, Stone testified.
It was at the Med Center that both Quentin and Sara Stone were questioned by law-enforcement officers, Stone said, and where they later would learn that Child Protective Services had removed Hank and Jack from their home. The boys were later placed in the care of Sara Stone’s parents.
Stone testified that he and his wife spent “entire days and nights” by Sam’s side and described the first indication they received from doctors that Sam’s condition was dire.
At the first meeting with a neurologist, Stone said, “we learned (Sam’s) injuries had damaged him for the rest of his life.”
Asked how he felt at that moment, a visibly upset Stone said, “You’re obviously heartbroken.”
The next day, he said, the same neurologist “met with us again and told us he wasn’t going to make it.”
At some point, Stone said, the decision was made to remove Sam from life support, but not before the family had a chance to say goodbye.
“Everybody had a chance to hold him one last time and talk to him,” Stone said, struggling again to compose himself. “I wrote a letter that I read out loud to him.”
Asked by his attorney to read the letter aloud in the courtroom, Stone took a minute or two to gather himself before so doing so.
In the letter, Stone told Sam “from the minute you were born, I knew you’d be a special little man.”
He told Sam how his brothers would always love and protect him, as would his parents, and thanked him “for blessing us with your presence.”
“Did you kill Sam?” Sequeira asked Stone.
“No,” he replied.
“Did you pick him up and shake him … and hit his head so hard that you killed him?” Sequeira asked.
“No,” he said once more.
Asked repeatedly by Sequeira throughout the course of his testimony if Stone ever felt angry, frustrated or resentful about caring for three small boys by himself when his wife was coaching soccer two evenings a week, Stone insisted over and over again that he did not.
“I was happy for her,” he said of his wife’s return to coaching after the birth of the twins. “That’s what she loves and is good at. I’m the complete opposite of resentful.”
In testimony last week, two brain-injury experts offered dueling theories as to what could have caused Sam’s death. The prosecution’s expert, UC Davis Medical Center neuropathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu, said there was no doubt in his mind that Sam died of a severe traumatic brain injury triggered by “adult-induced nonaccidental trauma” — formerly known in the medical field as shaken-baby syndrome.
But Dr. John Plunkett, a critic of the shaken-baby theory who testified several days later for the defense, said it’s just as possible that Sam’s injuries stemmed from a fall from a 3-foot-high bed onto a hardwood floor, as described by the baby’s parents.
Under cross-examination by prosecutor Steve Mount, Stone said he did not recall where little Jack was on the evening he found Sam on the floor, but as he was pacing with Sam, he passed by Jack’s room and saw him standing in there.
The prosecution was scheduled to continue cross-examination on Wednesday.
— Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at [email protected] or 530-747-8051. Follow her on Twitter at @ATernusBellamy