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Stone Case Update: Battle of Words Between Prosecutor and Witness

Yolo-Count-Court-Room-600by Justine Joya

The jurors in the Stone case have heard their fair share of expert witness testimonies, and on the morning of May 9 they endured yet another trial day of dense advanced medical diagnosis.

The trial day began with the defense calling Christine Uribe to the stand. Ms. Uribe was appointed by law to supervise defendant Stone’s visits with his children. These visits began in August of 2013 and continued through February of this year. They were scheduled two to three times a month and lasted for two hours. From what she gathered from the children’s interactions with Mr. Stone, she believed he was indeed a good father to his sons. She stated that he never lost his patience or was upset when they were around and that the kids were “always learning,” reading, playing and enjoying their time with their dad.

The prosecution’s cross-examination was brief, highlighting the fact that Ms. Uribe never saw Mr. Stone’s interaction with the infant victim, Sam, and never will.

Next after Ms. Uribe’s testimony, the defense called their second witness, Dr. John J. Plunkett and the lecture began. Dr. Plunkett is a general medical doctor and forensic pathologist. He has performed roughly two-thousand autopsies in his career and, of these two-thousand, about two hundred were children. He reported that the majority of these infants’ cases were natural deaths, also referred to as “Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.” After proving the qualifications of their witness, the defense requested Dr. Plunkett to be an expert pathology and bio-mechanics witness, and their request was met by Judge Richardson.

Delving into her examination, Deputy Public Defender Brushia was soon caught in a whirlwind of power-point presentations that were created by the doctor. To fully explain his findings and the reasoning behind them, Dr. Plunkett offered a detailed slideshow presentation. The bulk of the presentation was to prove that the severe head trauma seen in the victim could have been a result of the alleged fall even if there were no exterior visible signs. Dr. Plunkett shattered all previous medical opinions that testified to child abuse, stating that if the baby had been shaken violently enough to cause death, the neck should have shown signs of injury or a break—which it did not. When asked about the rib fractures, he noted that “normal handling” with a child who has a Vitamin D deficiency, which Sam did have, could result in rib fractures.

When the defense finally finished their portion of Dr. Plunkett’s testimony and turned him over to the prosecution for cross-examination, Mr. Mount began with high momentum, but that momentum was soon met with resistance as the examination turned into a battle of technicalities. Whenever Mount would attempt to re-phrase the doctor’s statements, Dr. Plunkett would not claim those statements or ideas as his own, arguing and frequently stating, “That’s not what I said.” When asked about prior testimonial statements, or specific findings within the doctor’s field work, Dr. Plunkett referred to the copies of documents before complying with the prosecutor’s assertions.

Despite Mount’s struggle in his questioning of Dr. Plunkett, he raised key issues that suggested that the doctor’s professional opinion was irrelevant to this particular case. In the doctor’s study on the effects of low level falls on children, Mount pointed out that the subjects involved were all older than Sam. In regards to the crash-test dummy, which mimicked an infant’s fall and was referenced in Dr. Plunkett’s power-point slides, Mount emphasized the unreliability of the dummy’s performance due to plastic covering and inability to perfectly reenact a real-life situation.

All in all, Ms. Uribe’s and Dr. Plunkett’s testimonies served in favor of the defense, but, despite resistance, the deputy district attorney managed to raise some questions that demonstrated concern with both witnesses.

Further jury trial is scheduled to continue Monday, May 12.

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41 comments

  1. Disagree, Jane.

    As long as we are not setting out to purposely offend or use unbecoming language, or posts that may subject themselves for trouble, it is perfectly fine to voice your thoughts.

    Or we would not have a comment section?
    A few of us may, on occasion, get a bit over zealous, but I think the open forum stays pretty decent.

    We do have freedom.of SPEECH….and press.

    Personally, I appreciate the critisism at times and the expression of anothers thoughts. I do not feel anyone has the right to say someone elses opinion is not valid…..its discounting..

    I dont straddle any fences…only point out the obvious for those interested in discussing.

  2. And much rather a person be frank, honest with me, to my face, rather I turn and take a knife in the back….just saying…kid.

  3. SODA

    I think that your observation is accurate. In the adult population, vitamin D levels tend to decline with aging.
    This becomes a concern in terms of bone fragility in the elderly with regard to fracture prevention. There are of course other confounding factors such as obesity, changes in hormones especially affecting the female population.
    So yes, I think one important point is the age based requirements. Elizabeth has noted that her population of patients is composed of the largely over 50 population which will certainly effect how she looks at the importance of Vitamin D. We could also see the importance of panel composition in the example that I chose to ask her about how anemia should be handled. My population tends to be younger and so this is frequently a more pressing issue in my practice.

    • Elizabeth Bowler

      I would argue that as a group, pregnant women are hands down the most important patient population for Vitamin D screening because of the fetal effects.

  4. Growing up as a kid I had very lo levels of vitamin D, and my doctor was concerned and put me on a high dose of Vitamin D, and then gradually lowered my level as the numbers increased. I find it interesting that though when I visited a GI doctor for other problems he said that everyone seems to have a Vitamin D deficiency. It’s more common now is what he told me. This whole trial is difficult, so many doctors, with so many different practices.

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