Court-martial panel determines that father caused baby's injuries
VILSECK, Germany — Fourteen-month-old Matthew Stevenson Jr. cannot walk, talk or crawl, said the foster mother who has cared for him the past six months, and he struggles even to roll over because of lingering injuries to his left hand.
He seemed like a normal happy, healthy little boy, according to several friends of his parents, until the morning of Aug. 19, 2002. Around six that morning the baby — in the care of his father, Spc. Matthew Stevenson — suddenly started shaking with seizures while his mother, Spc. Sitara Stevenson, was at her duty post in Vilseck.
“I was crying. I was frightened,” Sitara Stevenson said, after her anxious husband called to tell her.
Doctors at a German hospital in nearby Amberg said they at first thought Matthew Jr. suffered from epilepsy. Two days later, a series of X-rays and brain scans that revealed the truth: The baby had suffered a fractured skull and was bleeding inside his brain.
Last Thursday, a court-martial panel of officers and senior enlisted noncommissioned officers concluded Matthew Stevenson, 22, of the 529th Ordnance Company had inflicted the injuries by shaking his son that morning.
Although the soldier had been charged with attempted murder and maiming the baby, the panel found him guilty of a lesser charge of aggravated assault, said Maj. Steve Haight, chief of criminal law for the 1st Infantry Division’s staff judge advocate. The panel members sentenced Stevenson to 90 days in a military jail, reduction to the lowest enlisted rank and a formal reprimand.
“He took a baby that had been healthy its entire life,” said Capt. Dan Stigall, the co-prosecutor in the case. “Later that morning, he handed over to German doctors a baby that was fighting for its life.”
Since no one else saw what happened that morning between father and son, the trial turned on the conflicting testimony of expert witnesses. Several prosecution witnesses described Matthew Jr.’s injuries as classic examples of shaken baby/shaken impact syndrome — most particularly, the broken blood vessels in the baby’s eyes that treating doctors said they observed.
Defense experts countered that the syndrome, said to cause severe head and neck injuries, hasn’t been proven to exist. Capt. Jonathan Crisp, one of Stevenson’s two defense attorneys, said the National Association of Medical Examiners hasn’t recognized it as a cause of death.
Crisp suggested Matthew Jr.’s injuries resulted from mistakes made by the German doctor who had delivered him in May 2002 — injuries that didn’t become apparent for nearly three months. He said prosecutors rushed to “demonize” Matthew Stevenson.
The baby remains in a foster home, working with two therapists four times a week. His foster mother, Cindy Sanders, said he has progressed quickly in the past few months. Perhaps soon he’ll be able to wave, she said.