WOODLAND — The trial of a man accused of fatally injuring his infant son continued last week with testimony from medical witnesses who asserted the boy’s wounds were abuse-related, and from the victim’s mother who, despite being a prosecution witness, insisted her husband was incapable of inflicting them.
“Never,” Sara Stone said repeatedly on the stand in Yolo Superior Court, where she was asked several times whether Quentin Stone ever lost his temper or complained about caring for his three children, including 3-month-old twin Samuel Stone. “He welcomed it.”
Quentin Stone, 40, has pleaded not guilty to felony and misdemeanor child abuse charges handed down last August in a Yolo County grand jury indictment. His trial began April 21.
Yolo County prosecutors say Stone was the only person who was around baby Samuel when the fatal injuries — described as traumatic head wounds consistent with ongoing abuse — could have been inflicted during the month before he died in the fall of 2012.
The defense maintains Samuel’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.
During her time on the witness stand, Sara Stone described the series of events that preceded her son’s death — receiving an urgent text from her husband about the alleged fall on Sept. 5, 2012, followed by an emergency-room visit and two subsequent checkups in which Samuel was declared to be “fine.”
“We were constantly reassured,” Sara Stone said, even after a Sept. 11, 2012, incident during which Samuel went limp in his parents’ arms for three to five minutes. So when a seizure several weeks later revealed evidence of significant bleeding to Samuel’s brain, fear quickly gave way to anger.
“This was the fourth incident,” Sara Stone said, referring to prior consultations with the family’s doctors. “We had done this on Sept. 5, and we were just now getting an answer.”
Even at the UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, where Samuel was transferred following the Oct. 3, 2012, seizure that rendered him unconscious, the family initially held out hope that the infant would recover. That changed several days later, however, when doctors informed the Stones that Samuel would not survive.
The family gathered at Samuel’s bedside on Oct. 8, presenting him with a blanket, a letter, a book, and a toy from older brother Jack.
“We took turns sharing with him and talking to him and loving him and kissing him,” Sara Stone recalled, weeping. Across the courtroom, Quentin Stone lowered his head into his hand. “We told him that we loved him and he didn’t deserve this. … That’s how it ended.”
Samuel died the following day.
But the opinion that a fall from a bed caused Samuel’s fatal injuries was not shared by Dr. Kevin Coulter, chief of general pediatrics at the UCD Med Center, whose role includes providing consultation in cases where the patient is a suspected abuse victim.
Brain scans performed at the hospital showed “a larger than normal amount” of blood and other fluid surrounding both sides of Samuel’s brain, and “the brain tissue itself was distinctly abnormal-looking,” which indicated “an injury to the brain itself,” Coulter testified last week.
“My opinion is that this was an abusive head injury,” Coulter told the jury. He said the infant also suffered from severe retinal hemorrhaging, and that a skeletal survey showed signs of two fractured ribs near the baby’s spine — both conditions consistent with being repetitively shaken.
As to the spinal injuries, “we see them often in association with bleeding over the surface of the brain,” the doctor said.
Coulter said concerns about possible abuse were first raised by staff at Woodland Memorial Hospital, where Samuel had been taken prior to his transfer to the Med Center. In Sacramento, doctors performed additional tests to determine whether other factors — such as blood disorders or vitamin deficiencies — could have caused Samuel’s injuries, but those eventually were ruled out.
While falls like the one described by Samuel’s parents can trigger a brain bleed, “you typically don’t get bleeding on both sides of the brain,” Coulter testified.
Questioned regarding a defense theory that Samuel had an existing brain bleed from a difficult birth that was aggravated by the alleged fall from the bed, “I don’t think that the two in their totality are able to be connected,” Coulter said. “I have a very difficult time coming from point A, a fall, to point B, coming to the UC Davis Medical Center.”
During cross-examination by Stone defense attorney Martha Sequeira, Coulter acknowledged that while Samuel’s injuries were believed to be caused by abuse, he could not say whether it was Stone who inflicted them.
Yolo County coroner’s officials ruled Samuel’s death a homicide, based upon a forensic pathologist’s conclusion that the baby’s cause of death was severe traumatic brain injury and eye damage that was both “acute and chronic,” Deputy Coroner Laurel Weeks testified Friday.
Under Sequeira’s questioning, Weeks confirmed that her office had denied a request by Stone’s family for a privately retained forensic pediatric pathologist to attend Samuel’s Oct. 11, 2012, autopsy, but the reason for that was not entirely clear.
“That was a decision made by my chief deputy coroner,” Weeks said.
Stone’s trial continues this week with testimony from the forensic pathologist who conducted Samuel’s autopsy, as well as a UCD Medical Center neurologist who is expected to support Coulter’s testimony that shaking caused the baby’s fatal injuries.
Defense attorneys have said in court papers they plan to call their own experts whose testimony will indicate that Samuel’s injuries were consistent with the impact from the fall from the 3-foot-high bed onto a hardwood floor.
Judge Paul Richardson told the nine-man, three-woman jury on Friday that the case is on track and, if all goes as planned, the panel could begin deliberating the case in mid-May.
— Reach Lauren Keene at [email protected] or 530-747-8048. Follow her on Twitter at @laurenkeene