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IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — A judge has found an Iowa man not guilty of shaking and injuring his newborn baby, sharply criticizing a doctor at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics for mishandling the investigation into the child's injuries.
Prosecutors failed to prove former Davenport resident Peter Ranke abused the 3-week-old child, whose injuries to the brain and bones may have been caused by other medical conditions, District Judge John Telleen ruled.
"Frankly, I have some serious doubt whether a crime was even committed here," Telleen said from the bench in October after overseeing the trial, finding Ranke not guilty of child endangerment charges. A transcript was included in a written decision this month dismissing the case against Ranke, now 31 and living in Chicago.
Telleen's said UIHC pediatrician Resmiye Oral, director of its child protection program and an expert in shaken baby syndrome, rushed to judgment and failed to investigate other plausible causes of the injuries.
The science behind shaken baby syndrome has come under scrutiny by defense lawyers, judges and some doctors. Some caregivers who were convicted of shaking babies have had convictions overturned.
Defense attorney Kent Simmons called Ranke "an extremely brave and highly principled man," saying he turned down a plea agreement that could have given him probation to fight the charges, which carried a 50-year mandatory sentence.
"He would not admit to hurting his son for the sake of a plea bargain because he was innocent, and his children will need to know he was innocent," Simmons said of the father of two.
Patrick Barnes, a pediatric radiologist at Stanford University, testified that the baby's injuries may have been caused by rickets, blood clotting and thrombosis but that none of those causes were investigated. Barnes has been at the forefront among experts who have concluded that many injuries once attributed to shaking have other explanations.
Telleen praised Barnes, saying he was one of the best medical witnesses he's seen.
Ranke was arrested in November 2012 after he and his then-wife took the child to a hospital emergency room. Doctors said the child was suffering from a subdural hematoma — which can be caused by trauma that ruptures blood vessels near the brain — and a broken clavicle and possible rib fractures. Doctors believed the injuries were consistent with abuse. Ranke, who had been watching the child earlier that day, was arrested.
The baby was later given treatment at UIHC by Oral, who later mistakenly told police the head injuries were "acute subdural hematoma," Telleen said. In fact, a UIHC radiologist had diagnosed it as "subacute," a crucial difference because that means the injuries were less serious and likely caused 3 to 10 days earlier when Ranke wasn't alone with the child, Telleen wrote.
Telleen rejected as "hogwash" Oral's claim that the radiologist had previously told her it was acute and criticized her for failing to consult with other UIHC experts.
"Frankly as much as I hate to say with regard to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, I think there was a lack of evidence-based medicine in this case," he said.
Telleen said the baby, who survived the injuries, had been crying since birth and may have been born with some of the injuries. He said prosecutors offered "virtually no evidence" to establish facts proving any abuse.
Oral declined comment, saying she was unaware of the ruling until Tuesday. Prosecutor Amy DeVine didn't return messages.
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