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Leave No Stone Unturned In Infant Death Trial

Yolo-Count-Court-Room-600by Jane Fitzsimmons

On May 13, in the home stretch of the infant death trial, Deputy Public Defenders Martha Sequeira and Monica Brushia called their sole defendant and final witness to the stand, Mr. Quentin Stone.

Stone is suspected of child endangerment and abuse, resulting in the tragically premature death of his three-month-old son, Samuel Stone. ‘Q,’ as his friends and family fondly refer to him, has sat stoically in court for weeks, enduring a slew of accusations and conflicting medical reports stacked against him. The defense’s character and expert witnesses have done all they can to chisel away at the surmounting evidence, perhaps instilling enough reasonable doubt to give Quentin Stone a fighting chance. His testimony today, continuing into tomorrow morning, will surely impact the jury’s stance.

Ms. Sequeira began her line of questioning in reference to the “bed falling” incident on September 5, 2012. Mr. Stone was home alone with his three sons when his wife, Sara, called to remind him to shut the garage door and put away the baby stroller. He completed these tasks around 7:30PM after placing Sam toward the center of their king-size bed for safety. When he returned a couple minutes later, Sam was laying face down on the floor, immobile and breathing laboredly. Stone described the noise as a “low humming,” a sound he had “never heard before.” He rushed to pick up the infant and place him over his shoulder, proceeding to massage Sam’s limp arms and legs and pat his back. Sam started to regain consciousness after several minutes.

A still-worried Mr. Stone called his wife and told her to “hurry home.” Ten minutes later they were discussing what happened and decided to take Sam to see their neighbor, a retired firefighter, who instructed them to visit the ER. They immediately drove Sam to Kaiser “with the lights on in back to observe [him] in his reverse car seat.”

It was at this time Ms. Sequeira asked Mr. Stone, without pause or change in tone, “Did you hurt Sam?”

Mr. Stone was aghast, “No, I did not hurt my son. He’s a child.” Voice beginning to crack, he looked down and pondered, “Who could hurt a child?”

Ms. Sequeira followed up with the question, “Can good people sometimes do bad things?”

Setting his jaw decisively, Quentin Stone asserted, “Good people do not hurt children.”

Stone was then asked to explain what occurred at Kaiser. “The doctor did a physical exam of Sam with his onesie off.” When prompted, he elaborated that the doctor “saw nothing of concern” and that “the exam was more of a procedure for the parents,” meaning that the doctor performed the exam to reassure Quentin and Sara, not because there was anything to be concerned about. Changing the topic again, Sequeira wondered, “Do you love your family?” Stone, emotion rising in his voice, attested that he “loves his family more than anything.”

When urged to explain what happened after the ER, Stone described how they went home and were met by Nancy. “We talked about what happened and I’ll never forget what Nancy said.” After a pause to compose himself, he finished, “Lesson learned.” Mr. Stone, visibly reliving two words that haunt him, told the court that he “[thinks] about them every day.” Sequeira clarified that, “Lesson learned,” meant, “Don’t leave your child unsupervised.”

Defense’s questions forwarded to events that occurred over the next week, from the 6th to the 13th of September, 2012. On the morning of the 6th, “Sam was vomiting violently. Our other children have never done that,” explained Stone. “I left for work and Sara monitored him, and he threw up again. When I got home and was feeding him, he vomited a third time. It seemed to be after feedings.” On the morning of the 7th, Quentin Stone emailed Sam’s primary care pediatrician, Dr. Otani. They corresponded via email regularly about the Stone children. Dr. Otani was out of town, but she suggested that the Stones take Sam to see Dr. Villalobos.

During their appointment, Dr. Villalobos asked Quentin how much Sam was being fed, but failed to ask if Sam had vomited before falling off the bed. She watched Mr. Stone feed Sam breast milk and then observed if Sam vomited afterward. He did not. She consulted by telephone with a neurologist, ultimately deciding that Sam’s vomiting was unconcerning.

In court, the neurologist testified that he suggested a potential CT scan to Dr. Villalobos. However, Quentin argued, “Dr. Villalobos considered a CT scan and the neurologist talked her out of it.” If a CT scan had been mentioned, Mr. Stone claims he would’ve been entirely supportive – “I would’ve done anything the doctor suggested. That’s who we put our trust in. I’m not a doctor and I have no medical experience.”

In the end, Stone was sent home with Pedialyte and instructions to give Sam smaller feedings. Though Dr. Villalobos and the neurologist had discussed a potential viral infection, it was not brought up to Quentin. He was not even told that Sam had a low fever.

On September 11, 2012, during diaper changing, Sam had another limp episode. Quentin proclaimed, “I lifted Sam’s legs up and he started crying vehemently, then went limp. None of the boys ever really cried, just made some noise in the mornings when they were hungry. When Sam went limp, it was the same labored breathing as before. I massaged and held him and he gradually regained consciousness. His breathing returned to normal.” The Stones emailed Dr. Otani again, and she prescribed Zantac, “a histamine antagonist that inhibits stomach acid production.”

Though the Zantac seemed to be helping, Quentin and Sara Stone remained concerned about Sam, and grew aware of his inability to track with his eyes. Dr. Otani told them not to compare the twins.

In a clever form of questions, Ms. Sequeira stipulated that Quentin Stone was at home alone with his three boys every Monday and Wednesday between September 5 and October 3, 2012. She designed to point out how nothing physically alarming had happened to Jack or Hank during that time.

On October 3, 2012, Sara headed to soccer practice as part of the Stone family’s normal routine, and Quentin was left alone with Jack, Hank, and Sam. Mr. Stone reported that Sam was sleeping upright in a horseshoe pillow and Hank was asleep in an infant swing in their living room. Quentin moved Sam to the bedroom, played with Jack for a minute, then went to check on Sam. “He was limp and his head was slumped forward on his chest. I could hear his breathing; it was labored. I un-swaddled him, massaged, held, and talked to him, but nothing was changing. I was scared and called 911.”

Ms. Sequeira, referring to the 911 call, inquired, “The pats you were giving Sam were kind of loud – what were you doing?” Quentin murmured, “Patting his back and massaging him.” He painted the picture of how he was holding Sam over his shoulder at the time, phone between his cheek and shoulder, rubbing and patting Sam’s back to revive him.

“Did you tell Jack what was going on?” Solicited Ms. Sequeira.

“I told them,” meaning Jack and Hank, that “firemen were coming and not to be scared.”

“Did you shake Sam or hurt him in any way?” Ms. Sequeira demanded.

Shocked, Quentin countered, “No way.”

“Did you throw him against a wall or hard surface like Dr. Omalu said?” As she said the words, Ms. Sequeira intentionally banged the wooden stand in front of Mr. Stone with her fist, causing the jury to jump.

“No,” said Quentin Stone curtly.

“Why should we believe you?”

Exasperated, the defendant pleaded, “You should believe me because I’ve been telling the truth since the beginning.”

“Did you know the doctors suspected you of hurting Sam when they told you that law enforcement would be talking to you?”

Mr. Stone admitted, “We didn’t guess why because at that point, we had no idea what was even wrong with Sam. We noticed his left eye was not opening, before anyone else, and I notified the doctor.”

“Did you cooperate with law enforcement and tell them everything they wanted to know?”

“Yes.”

“When you talked to the neurosurgeon, what did he say?” Ms. Sequeira probed.

“He said there was not enough blood to drain. They connected Sam to an EEG and we were asked to watch Sam and look for signs of seizures and hit a button if, ‘yes.’ Through the monitor we could tell he was [having seizures] even if he was limp. His body tensed and his left arm would lift up. We thought he was [having seizures] sometimes even when the doctors did not. Turns out he was the whole time.” Mr. Stone’s voice shook as he struggled not to cry. He continued, “The doctors did not do an MRI because they were trying to control his seizures first. They did a CT though. We didn’t question it because we trusted them.”

On October 5, the Stones received a “coded phone call” from friends, who tried to hide that Jack and Hank were taken by Child Protective Services. “We got it out of them,” said Quentin.

“When you were told Sam was going to have brain damage, how did you feel?” Sequeira asked empathetically.

Stone was unable to answer for ten seconds, looking up at the ceiling as if holding tears in. Finally, he looked Sequeira in the eyes and whispered, “Absolutely heartbroken.”

“The next day, you found out Sam wasn’t going to make it. You wrote him a letter and I would like you to read it to the court.” Ms. Sequeira approached the projector and placed a slide with a handwritten letter by Quentin Stone, addressed to his infant son, Sam. The jury was transfixed, waiting for the defendant to begin. By the time he sobbed the final lines, “Mommy and daddy say goodnight a final time. We love you,” Ms. Brushia was audibly sobbing, the jury’s faces were trembling with emotion, and the Stones’ thirty or so family and friends were sniffling and wiping away tears.

Ms. Sequeira had no further questions.

DDA Mount’s cross-examination was sedated, perhaps affected by the weight of Quentin Stone’s letter and the solemn response from the court room. He asked questions about pre-established facts, such as where Mr. Stone was when Sam fell off the bed, what time it was, if Sam’s breathing was mostly labored while exhaling, and if Sara was the primary parent giving feedings to the twins. Mount wondered how long it took for Sam to return to normal after each limp episode. Stone was adamant that, “Sam did not return to normal. He regained control of his limbs and his breathing was normal, but was exhausted as if he had been through an ordeal.”

Mr. Mount asked if Dr. Villalobos had called the Stones to follow up. Perturbed by the suggestion, Mr. Stone’s voice took an edge as he clarified, “No. I was in the room and heard her testify that she called, and she even said she tried to call my home phone, but she did not. I don’t have a home phone. She never made that call.”

Mr. Mount’s voice rose, “Was Dr. Villalobos lying?”

Ms. Sequeira, attending prudently, objected on the basis of speculation. Judge Richardson conceded, “Sustained.”

Before court was adjourned, Mount asked Quentin Stone a final question, “You said you noticed at Woodland Memorial that Sam’s eye wasn’t opening. You didn’t notice any swelling?”

Mr. Stone confirmed, “No. The first I heard of any swelling was at the Grand Jury.”

Quentin Stone’s testimony was not carried into the afternoon and will resume tomorrow morning at 10:00AM. Dr. Omalu has been called back to court to rebuttal and will likely testify tomorrow afternoon.

You can follow along with updates on Twitter at @DavisVanguard or #YoloJustice

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About Vanguard Court Watch Interns

The Vanguard Court Watch puts 8 to 12 interns into the Yolo County House to monitor and report on what happens. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org

5 comments

  1. Nice reporting – it must have been a heart breaking day.

    Googling up Dr. Omalu, when all is said and done, it appears that business is his primary interest, i.e.,
    medicine as a money making business opportunity, rather than medicine for healing.

    He almost always testifies for prosecutors.

    Question for the interns: Were Omalu’s slides done in connection with the county autopsy?

    • In court when he testified for the first time in this case, he was asked to the a neuropathology test of the infants brain. I don’t believe it was stated that it was in connection to the county autopsy.

  2. tj

    “medicine as a money making business opportunity, rather than medicine for healing.”

    And herein lies a major problem with both our medical and judicial approaches.
    Your statement is equally true of large pharmaceutical companies, of many fee for service providers, of in store and on line purveyors of any OTC vitamin supplement or alternative medication. Medicine is very big business in our country. Sometimes this results in healing. Sometimes not so much so. But the result is always profit.

    Likewise in our judicial system, we have established a win / lose mentality rather than a process designed to dispassionately arrive at the truth and restore justice to the degree possible. In this system, careers are made by number of wins on both the part of the prosecution and the part of the defense.

    Regarding Dr. Omalu:
    Would your opinion of his testimony have changed if it were the case that he usually testified for the defense ?
    Convict or acquit, there is still money and reputations to be built by nearly all involved.

  3. Jane Fitzsimmons

    It’s hard to judge exactly what Dr. Omalu’s primary concern is – money or healing, or both. He is arrogant and continuously refers to his opinions as fact (he did it again today in rebuttal), but how far from the truth is this claim? If medicine is factual at all, surely a medical doctor of Dr. Omalu’s caliber is capable of determining fact from fiction? He testifies in thousands of cases, allegedly, because of his expertise; his expansive, defendable knowledge from years of experience working with and under experts in medicine.
    Then again, how can Dr. Barnes, another high caliber medical doctor, disagree determinedly?
    I think the jury’s judgment is going to come down to the likability of these respective professionals.
    After sitting in the court room for weeks and watching the Sam Stone story unfold, I have little more grasp of what actually happened than I did walking in the first day.

  4. “Omalu testifies in 1,000′s of cases” —
    Omalu works full time for the San Joaquin County Sheriff/Coroner’s ofc. So how does he find time to testify in all these other cases? I talked to his ofc supervisor, who was surprised to hear that his employee was away testifying in Yolo County. It seems that when Omalu is out of the office, they naturally assume he’s working on San Joaquin County cases, whether he is or not.

    He was also, at the same time, an assoc. professor at UCDavis Medical Center, but he was terminated last fall. No one at UCD had anything good to say about him. The reason he was terminated is a hot button – no hint given of why he’s gone.

    He’s quite the self promoter, claiming to have been involved in so many things that one can only wonder if anyone would have that many hours in a day.
    Googling up his resume is worthwhile.

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