Stuttgart-bases soldier not guilty of assault on baby
STUTTGART, Germany — A military jury Friday found a 23-year-old soldier not guilty on charges of assaulting his 2-month-old stepson.
Spc. Robert Hayes of the 554th Military Police Company in Stuttgart had been accused of shaking his wife’s son, Andrew, on two occasions in November 2004. After a three-day court-martial, the military panel deliberated for about 90 minutes before delivering its verdict.
The defense characterized the event as “every parent’s nightmare,” a healthy infant that suddenly faced life-threatening symptoms. The prosecutors called it “every baby’s nightmare,” when an angry parent loses his temper.
“I’m just glad the truth finally came out,” said Hayes, who didn’t testify. “I just want to spend time with my family.”
Hayes then left the courtroom with his wife, Spc. Chrystal Hayes, and his cousin and her husband, who took custody of the baby and adopted him five months later. They live in western New York state.
Andrew, now 19 months old, is a normal, undamaged healthy child, the cousin testified. She brought the toddler to the courtroom for the reading of the verdict.
According to testimony, at about 6 p.m. on Nov. 30, 2004, Hayes knocked on his neighbor’s door at Robinson Barracks in Stuttgart. He was holding his wet, naked stepson, and the baby was gasping for air and unresponsive. The baby’s skin was grayish-blue, the neighbor testified.
The neighbor went to the barracks fitness center to get the baby’s mother. While they were gone, Hayes gave the baby two “rescue breaths.” By the time Chrystal Hayes and the German ambulance had arrived, the baby was responsive, crying and kicking.
The baby was transported to Olga Hospital, where his body temperature was measured at 89 degrees, or about 10 degrees below normal, possibly from being wet and naked that cool evening, and from lowered blood circulation, according to testimony.
The prosecution alleged that Hayes changed his story several times.
Dr. Volker Ocker, who treated the boy, said that Hayes told him the boy went limp while he was being bathed. But Hayes reportedly told another doctor he’d taken the boy out of the bath, laid him on the bedroom floor, and returned a few minutes later to find him ailing.
The baby was later diagnosed to have bleeding beneath the skull and behind his eyes, symptoms consistent with shaken baby syndrome.
Army investigator Kenneth Free testified that Hayes said he at one time tripped while carrying the boy in a car seat, and the seat banged against a wall. Hayes also said the boy once rolled off a couch.
Hayes later told Free that he had shaken the boy a week or so before for about two seconds, according to Free’s testimony. Then Hayes signed a sworn statement.
“I guess you could say I lost my cool with my child,” Hayes said, according to the prosecutor’s version of the signed statement.
Stars and Stripes’ request to read the statement, which was admitted as evidence, was denied by the 21st Theater Support Command, which oversees the prosecution of soldiers in southwest Germany.
Capt. James Ford, who led the defense team, argued that Hayes had always “done the right thing,” including caring for and marrying the pregnant mother upon returning from Iraq, even though he wasn’t the child’s biological father. Hayes went to pregnancy classes with the mother, and was with her when the baby was delivered.
According to Chrystal Hayes, Ocker, the German doctor, told her that a lot of American soldiers abuse their children, which angered her. “I’ve never been treated so badly by a doctor in my life,” she said.
One defense witness, Dr. John Galaznik, an Alabama-based pediatrician, testified that there were other possible causes for the boy’s symptoms, including trauma, seizure, cardiac disorder and choking from reflux.