Marine guilty of involuntary manslaughter in baby’s death
November 5, 2008
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Marine Lance Cpl. James J. Boston was convicted of involuntary manslaughter here Monday in the shaking death of his 2-month-old daughter.
A general court-martial panel of six male officers deliberated for 3½ hours before returning with a not guilty verdict on the original charge of murder and guilty on the lesser included offense. Involuntary manslaughter is defined as causing the death of another by "culpable negligence, displaying a gross, reckless, wanton disregard for the results," according to the instructions given to the jury.
Sentencing by the same panel is scheduled for Tuesday.
Boston, 22, of Florida, was charged with shaking his daughter violently Jan. 28 while watching her alone in the Ishikawa apartment he shared with his girlfriend, Lance Cpl. Eltrena Johnson. According to testimony during the weeklong trial, Boston told investigators that he noticed the baby was not breathing and "shook her lightly" to resuscitate her. She was rushed to a local hospital, but never regained consciousness and died when life support was removed at the Navy Medical Center in San Diego on Feb. 10.
Boston has been held in the Camp Hansen brig since he admitted, after seven hours of interrogation, to shaking his daughter. It was one of several changes in his story, the investigators noted.
According to testimony, Japanese doctors at Chubu Hospital and medical personnel with U.S. Naval Hospital on Camp Lester immediately suspected the baby, Tahirah Boston, was the victim of abuse. Their unanimous diagnosis was that Tahirah died as a result of shaken baby syndrome.
An autopsy conducted by the San Diego Medical Examiner’s office later backed up their finding. The autopsy ruled the death a homicide by non-accidental trauma.
The trial was marked by the expert medical testimony of 14 doctors concerning conflicting theories on shaken baby syndrome as a legitimate cause of death.
Seven prosecution witnesses, doctors who cared for Tahirah in Okinawa and San Diego, and the two pathologists who performed the autopsy, testified that the baby’s injuries bore the three most common "earmarks" of a shaken baby case — bleeding within the brain, retinal hemorrhage and fractured ribs. Two military child abuse pediatricians who looked at the case records concurred.
They ruled out all other possible causes for the injuries.
The diagnosis was a "rush to judgment," argued Lt. Col. David Jones, Boston’s lawyer.
He presented five doctors who testified that some medical professionals are too quick to find child abuse in cases that are not in those doctors opinions, clear-cut. The doctors said other health issues could have caused the baby’s death — including chronic bleeding inside the brain caused by childbirth trauma that went unnoticed and untreated and never healed.
Two of the defense medical experts disputed whether a child can be shaken so violently to cause death unless there was also some blunt force.
Jones argued that the doctors who treated Tahirah were quick to conclude she was a victim of child abuse because they mistakenly believed she had a fractured skull.
A computer image of Tahirah’s skull showed what appeared to be a fracture, but it was not found in the autopsy.
Marine Maj. Gregory Palmer, one of two attorneys for the government, called the defense witnesses "the lunatic fringe of the medical community.
"You can smell the desperation in the defense case," he said. "The mainstream medical system of the U.S. — of the world — says shaken baby syndrome is a legitimate diagnosis."