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Trial Update: Controversy Over Evidence Heats Up Defense

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

The Stone case continued with the prosecutor calling Yolo County Deputy Coroner Laurel Weeks to the stand on the morning of May 2. Prosecuting Attorney Steve Mount conducted a cross-examination that began calmly but ended with an outburst by Defense Attorney Martha Sequeira.

Quentin Stone is the father accused of “shaking” his two-month-old baby, which potentially may have caused the baby’s death. The trial, which started last week, involves the contention that three-month-old Samuel Stone died from injuries that included bleeding in his brain, retinal hemorrhages and fractured ribs, and has left many questioning the charges at hand.

Before delving into the specifics of the victim’s case, the prosecution briefed the court on the witness’ occupation and expertise as a deputy coroner. As his examination continued, anticipation filled the air as the prosecution’s questions started to narrow in on Stone’s alleged victim. Asking the witness what her role was in the victim’s autopsy, she responded that she was in charge of photographing the body before, during, and after the procedures. When asked about any visible signs on the body, the witness informed the court that the body had a scar from the organ donating procedure and medical tags from the UC Davis Medical Center.

Mr. Mount then grabbed three documents from his seat and was re-approaching the witness when, before he was able to show the witness or the jurors the content of the documents, the defense interrupted with a boisterous “Objection!” Shortly after Ms. Sequeira proceeded to present her reasons for objecting, Judge Richardson called both counsels to the bench and requested a short recess. Once the jury evacuated the court room, the counsels and Judge Richardson were engaged in an intense discussion in which Ms. Sequeira was clearly vehement.

The documents that the prosecution was presenting were pictures of the victim’s fractured ribs. The defense argued that Mr. Mount violated the court’s ruling on the agreement made between both counsels. The agreement stated that both counsels would present all evidence and photos to each other before it was brought to the jurors’ attention. However, because both the defense and prosecution had access to the photos, Judge Richardson allowed the presentation of the photographs.

After the short recess, the prosecution revealed to the court three photographs of what appeared to be the victim’s fractured ribs. In further conducting his cross-examination, or at least attempting to, the defense made it very difficult for the prosecution to ask a question, which appeared to intimidate the witness, who began to second-guess her answers. To every question the prosecution asked, the defense followed up by objecting to it as “speculative,” “hearsay” or other objections.

When the prosecution finally delivered a question to the witness, it left a significant impression. He clarified through the witness that it was medical doctors who determined a victim’s cause of death, and that it was her job as a Deputy Coroner to determine the manner of death: suicide, homicide, accident, illness, or undetermined. DDA Mount asked her what, in her professional opinion, she noted the manner of death to be and she responded “homicide.”

Attempting to discredit the Deputy Coroner’s proficiency, Deputy Public Defender Sequeira questioned the witness about one of the requests made by the Stone family. The Stone family requested a Forensic Pediatric Pathologist to be present during the baby’s autopsy, but their request was not met. When the defense asked the witness why this was the case, she replied that the orders were made by her Chief Deputy and that she was simply following orders. The defense took a seat and stated “nothing further.”

Judge Richardson adjourned the court early afternoon on Friday, May 2 and scheduled the trial to be continued on Monday morning.

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About David Greenwald

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

40 comments

  1. I have a couple of questions Justine.

    1. “The agreement stated that both counsels would present all evidence and photos to each other before it was brought to the jurors’ attention. However, because both the Defense and Prosecutor had access to the photos, Judge Richardson allowed for the presentation of the photographs.”

    Do you know why this objection was made on this basis if the defense had already had access to the photos ?

    2. “The Stone family requested a Forensic Pediatric Pathologist to be present during the baby’s autopsy, but their request was not met.”

    Do you have any idea of why this request would have been denied ? Is this an economic decision ? Do we have such as expert locally or would an expert have to be brought in ? I am presuming that this decision is made by the coroner’s office ? If cost plays a role, is their any provision made for families that would offer to pay the cost ?

    • Elizabeth Bowler

      Good questions, Tia. Clearly the defense was unhappy about something pertaining to their access to the photos. Perhaps the defense was only given access to them at the last minute which did allow them time to have their experts review it, but that is entirely speculation on my part although I have seen that sort of thing happen on occasion.

  2. “Clearly the defense was unhappy about something pertaining to their access to the photos.”

    This came to mind as one possibility for me.
    What also came to mind is that it might have been for theatrical effect, or to disrupt the flow of the prosecutor’s presentation, or even as a “hail Mary” just to see if they could get emotionally damaging pictures blocked.

    • Elizabeth Bowler

      Well, I don’t know any of the attorney’s involved, but, until proven otherwise, I will assume that their objections are based upon factual concerns rather than fabricated theatrics, although I unfortunately have seen the latter occur albeit extremely rarely in my experience. It is much more common for evidence to not be disclosed to the defense in a timely manner.

  3. Having not sat in on the in limine pre-trial hearings in this case, I can only speculate that, first of all, the defense probably wants most of the photos kept from the jury (as prejudicial), that there must have a been a decision before trial as to which ones would be allowed in as evidence, that the defense may have wanted to see which photos were being presented in that exact testimony [a quick showing from Mount to Sequiera, or just before the session started; there could always be a fear that the prosecution would "accidentally" slip in a disallowed photo, and even with the jury being instructed to disregard such evidence, the bell would have been rung], and, yes, strategically, the defense could have been objecting on a ~ technicality [of not seeing the immediately-proposed photos a few seconds before presentation], when they really may be frustrated that some or all photos were even allowed to be entered as exhibits.

    • Davis Progressive

      good point. the photos are prejudicial. no one disputes the baby’s death, the only question is the means. only photos illustrating the means should be admissible.

  4. It has been often the case where DDA waits til prelims or trials, these days to disclose certain discoveries .

    I have wtnessed this now at least four times lately, even in Marsh case…not dure what is going? But I think the pics were shown as part of evidence of injury . However, the agreement
    was to make sure defense viewed first. It appears Judge Richardson felt they did? I am assuming…but was not there. Sadly, the jurors may have to see and hear things that will make them emotionally charged, in fact, we have already experienced this…

    This case is certainly one of perplexity.

    There have been very few aquitals because the prosecutions all over rely on medical experts and give little, if any reverence to opposing experts or other facts in cases like this..however thrre are very few experts who disagree with the majority rule.

    You have to test everything every possibilty but it is often never done due sometimes to lack of funding and D. O. J. I have learned that also in these trials.

    What I have questioned of other Nuerosurgeons and my sons Nuerologist, is.the amount of brain injjry

    imely manner given

    • Antoinette

      “What I have questioned of other Nuerosurgeons and my sons Nuerologist, is.the amount of brain injjry

      imely manner given”

      Can you clarify this comment ? i see that some of it did not get posted.

      “You have to test everything every possibilty”
      This I would agree with wholeheartedly. And I would add that it would be most beneficial to allow the jury to consider every fact and every possibility. I take a very dim view of the “suppression of evidence”. It really does not matter to me which side is attempting to have evidence suppressed. If we are going to believe in the ability of jurors as “finders of fact” then surely there is a problem with the selective suppression of facts regardless of which side is doing the suppressing.
      There is also a problem with courtroom theatrics used to manipulate the emotions of the jurors. While this may not be a common problem, even if it only occurs in these high profile, high stakes cases, I see it as having the possibility to have very real, very detrimental effects on all involved from the potentially innocent accused and their family, to all of the witnesses and experts involved as can be seen by a rush to judgement by some posters,
      even those falsely implicated since they were erroneously cited even though they had no involvement in the case.

  5. Elizabeth and Highbeam

    Thanks to both of you for your insights.
    And for providing for me the opportunity to slip in once again my firmly held belief that our adversarial system is a very poor way to get at the facts of the matter. Each side has a huge vested interest in presenting their own side in a more compelling or “prejudicial” fashion.

    This can be seen even in the words used to describe the manner of presentation of the expert witness.
    One person’s “condescension” can easily be another persons “clear presentation at a level I can understand”.
    It seems to me that too often, the emphasis is not on getting at the truth of what occurred ,but rather casting doubt, not on the evidence presented by the opposing side, but by casting aspersions on the witnesses in the hopes of making them seem less likable in the eyes of the jury and in the eyes of the public. This should not be a referendum on the witnesses, or the lawyers, or how sympathetic the accused and their family may be.
    It should be a search for the facts of the matter, not who can put on the best production.

  6. Oops……
    I know from MRI’s done on my son and his Nuerologist, that his seizures have caused damage. It was explained that a.type of, “Cell Nueronal death,” occurs in some parts of the brain mostly common in prolonged or recurring seizures. But a certain amount of testing must be done. It would have to be done to rule out injury from other causes.

    Dr. James Boggan, world renowned surgeon, was the doctor who did my sons craniotomy as soon as he and other doctors discovered from the MRI, his Subdural area was filled with the fluid from infection. I was told he had about a 30 percent chance of survival, especially due to the main artery running thru that area. Dr. Boggan told me if that was hit,.he would bleed to death on the table. But it didnt stop him from performing the surgery.

    I realize an infant may be incomparable, due to different biological factors, however, even Dr. Coultef admitted the baby may have lived if that brain fluid was removed.

    I still contend, no matter how you slice it, baby Stone was failed.

    Interestingly enough, Dr. Boggan is from UCD.

    In the four hour neuroscience evaluation done by UCD, in my sons report, it was also determined the two hour seizing after surgery, caused noticiable cell damage.

    Again, I think there should have been a lot more testing done. Even though Coulter stated they did test things to rule out other causes. I think another doctor is on the stand on Monday. Maybe he can shed some light.

    • Antoinette

      I very much appreciate how difficult this case must be for you given your son’s situation. And I would like to commend you for your appreciation and acknowledgement that every case is different. As a doctor, I would like to add a different perspective to a comment that you have made.

      “I still contend, no matter how you slice it, baby Stone was failed.”

      From a medical perspective, baby Stone and the Stone family suffered a very bad outcome. This is far different from saying that baby Stone was “failed”. Since we do not know all the circumstances, there are a few points that need to be taken into consideration.

      We do not know that an appropriately skilled neurosurgical team could have been assembled in a timely
      fashion to meet baby Stones’s immediate needs. One of the tenants of the practice of medicine is
      “first do not harm”. If doctors with the appropriate level of expertise were not immediately available or if
      they were available and in their opinion intervention would have been futile or would have increased baby
      Stone’s risk further thus proving lethal, then the right course of action would have been taken even if the
      best outcome does not ensue. No procedure is without risk itself and it may have been the case that baby
      Stone was not deemed stable enough to survive either anesthesia, or the procedure itself.

      All of this is clearly speculative. in honor of your statement, “you have to test everything, you have to
      consider every possibility” with which I heartily agree, I think this needs to be applied to the actions of all
      medical personnel involved as well as to all the other aspects of this case.

      • Elizabeth Bowler

        The problems with the medical care began well before the final, fatal event, beginning with the inadequate prenatal care that resulted in the baby being born with a low Vitamin D level. This was followed by the numerous visits and calls to the pediatrician due to various neurological sounding complaints that were met with reassurances that the baby was fine. Clearly, in retrospect, the baby was not fine, and critical symptoms were not investigated.

        • Elizabeth

          “beginning with the inadequate prenatal care that resulted in the baby being born with a low Vitamin D level. ”

          I see this as an example of extending our beliefs of what might have happened beyond the limits of the evidence presented. Unless we have reviewed the maternal prenatal record, which I am assuming none of us have, we have no way of knowing whether or not the prenatal care was “inadequate”. We have no way of knowing what labs were or were not drawn on the mother nor what their values were without review of her chart. Without this information, drawing a conclusion of
          ” inadequate care” is purely speculative .

          • Elizabeth Bowler

            I disagree, Tia, that this is speculative. It is completely reasonable to assume that if the baby’s level at 8 weeks was low, then it was also low at birth and prenatally as the level simply does not change that quickly. Iin fact, if there had been Vitamin D supplementation as recommended with breast feeding, then the level would have gone up after birth rather than down. A low Vitamin D level in an infant at 8 weeks is correctly assumed to be a maternal problem and that is a reasonable assumption based upon what is known about infants and Vitamin D.

          • I think that this is too simplistic an assumption to make. If we extend, as I believe that we should, Antoinette’s precaution with regard to considering everything rather than making assumptions, to that of medical care provided, we need to keep all possibilities in mind.

            “An infant’s vitamin D status depends upon the amount of vitamin D transferred from the mother prenatally and upon the amount of vitamin D ingested or produced by the skin during exposure to ultraviolet light postnatally [4]. Materno-fetal transfer of vitamin D is mostly in the form of 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25OHD), which readily crosses the placenta [5]. The half-life of 25OHD is approximately two to three weeks [4]. Thus, the serum concentration of vitamin D falls rapidly after birth unless additional sources are available. ”

            “Etiology and treatment of calcipenic rickets in children”
            Thomas Carpenter March 2014

            This is the reason that exposure to sunlight, and or supplementation of Vitamin D is recommended for infants.

            Do we know whether or not baby Stone was prescribed supplements, whether or not the supplements were being administered as prescribed, whether or not ( given episodes of vomiting) enough was being absorbed ? I do not have this information.

            In order to be basing our judgements on evidence and not on speculation, the information that we would need would be:
            1. The maternal level of Vitamin D prior to delivery
            2. The infants level of Vitamin D at the time of the fall
            3. The infants level of Vitamin D at time of presentation that
            led to the UCD hospitalization.
            Without this level of information we have no way of knowing whether the deficit began in utero, or was a consequence of some metabolic process or defect unique to this infant.

            What I believe about this case based on the evidence presented so far is that there would be reasonable doubt about the etiology of the infant’s injuries. I also believe that there is reasonable doubt about whether or not there was any deficiency in prenatal and/or pediatric care. We, as third hand recipients of the evidence presented, simply do not have enough information to be making judgements.

          • Elizabeth Bowler

            Tia, I really disagree with you on this one. If there was adequate prenatal care then the maternal Vitamin D level was definitely done, likely sequentially, and we will hear about it because the defense will bring it up. If it was not done, the care was inadequate, period. From Dr Coulter’s testimony, we know that the level done at UCD when the infant presented there (shortly after the fall) was low. This was a twin pregnancy and very high risk for Vitamin D deficiency and required close monitoring to avoid the kinds of problems that developed here. We don’t know if there were other maternal risk factors for deficiency such as obesity and smoking, but again, I expect that we will hear about all of this as the trial proceeds. I have never seen a mother with adequate vitamin D status have a baby with seriously low levels. The Vitamin D experts who know much more about this than I, insist that an infant with low levels at birth and in the early weeks of life developed those low levels in utero from a mother with low serum levels. I know from my own practice, that low serum levels in women is rampant. With adequate pediatric care, the baby would have been supplemented with Vitamin D if breastfeeding or fed a Vitamin D fortified infant formula if bottle fed, and the levels would have risen not fallen after birth. The baby should not, at 8 weeks, have had a low serum level if prenatal and pediatric care had been following this issue as carefully as they should have.

          • ” I expect that we will hear about all of this as the trial proceeds.”

            This is precisely my point. We will hear more, and then we will be basing our statements on some actual evidence rather than speculation.
            As for the anecdotal statement, “I have never seen…”, I went through the first 25 years of my career without seeing an acardiac twin. And then I did. I am not saying that you are incorrect, just that I find your judgement premature.

          • Elizabeth Bowler

            I really hope you turn out to be correct and that we learn that sequential 25 hydroxy D levels were maintained above 50 throughout pregnancy and that the infant’s low serum level was therefore due to some other unknown cause. But in my experience, common things are common, and until proven otherwise, a low level at birth or shortly thereafter is due to low maternal serum levels especially in a twin pregnancy.

  7. Autopsy photos: If they’re available to the public, then as public records, the judge’s reasoning might have been that they were available to the defense team and it was up to the defense to get the photos directly from the coroner. I recently obtained an autopsy report from southern CA simply by asking for it.

    The agreement to exchange information between defense and prosecution appears very unusual.
    Aren’t prosecutors legally required to turn over their evidence, and defense attorneys are not?
    Does anyone have an idea why this agreement was made?

    As to the current system, it seems to be rooted in the recent past in which defendants didn’t even have a right to an attorney. Now we have defense attorneys paid for by the county for those unable to afford their own attorneys, which is often 90% of defendants, but the defense office is WAY underfunded compared to the District Attorney’s office, and the District Attorney is elected but the Public Defender is not.

    • tj

      I think you have made very good points about the imbalance in our current system.
      Also, I had no idea that autopsy reports could be obtained by public records request.
      31 years post grad and still learning. Thanks.

  8. Hello everyone. This is Justine. To clarify the lingering question regarding this agreement between counsels, yes @TJ prosecutors are legally required to turn over evidence to the defense. But this agreement stated that both counsels would meet and inform the other which specific piece of evidence, from the abundance of evidence and photographs, he or she would use in court. When Judge Richardson allowed for Mr. Mount to proceed with the pictures because both counsels already had them, Ms. Sequeira made a comment in court yesterday that she had easily over 700 pictures from the Coronor’s office. I do not know all the details of the agreement made between the counsels, because they did not say, but what I did get was that they would inform each other before presenting such evidences to the jury in case either party objected to it. I will say again however that I do not know the full details of the agreement.

  9. Thanks Justine for getting back with us.
    I can’t help but think that this situation and the subsequent waste of jury and court time could be totally avoided if the prosecution and defense were obliged to iron out what could and could not be presented prior to coming to court in the first place.

  10. County Coroners: Their reports and conclusions can be quite superficial. They don’t always have the background information required for accurate determinations. An autopsy may be done within a day or 2 of the death, not enough time in some cases to collect all the medical records or other relevant info.

    The autopsy report I have from a case in southern CA leaped to the conclusion the victim was strangled, and so the death was labeled “homicide”. In fact, there was no manual strangulation at all, per the medical examiner’s own dissection of the neck. What the medical examiner didn’t know was that the victim had advanced cancer, which weakened the victim’s blood vessels, and so the victim strangled on her own blood due to cancer, not due to any violence. Too bad for the accused, who has now spent 24 years in prison.

    The medical examiner in that case took an early retirement a couple of years later, complaining that he was tired of being pressured by the DA and police agencies to “stretch testimony beyond the facts”.

    • tj

      That is certainly a sobering example of what can go wrong. I remain convinced that a system in which anyone’s career can be built on the number of convictions they secure ( or number of acquittals for that matter), is not a system that is designed to provide justice for all optimally.

  11. Thank you Tia, great points. I agree the courtroom theatrics may indeed hinder the trier of facts but I believe given the sensitive nature of this case, it often summons more passion and emotion on both sides.

    The triad of injuries along with the areas have proven to be some of the most damaging evidence against the accused in several cases in the states. But doctors cannot rule out that if a.baby has been dropped or fallen onto a hard object, the same results can show up.

    Few attorneys have been able to convince a jury to think outside the box and/or gain an aquittal. Although, we can hope.

    However, we do not know what happened.

    Agreed, Tia, maybe the doctors did what they felt necessary in their medical opinion, and I am not placing blame, just baffled at why one of UCD’s and the countrys best surgeons, chose the option of surgery?

    I can only say, I am eternally grateful and deeply saddened for their family.

    Too, we have a lot more to cover….

  12. Antoinette

    I truly appreciate all that you are doing on this case which, of course, I am following closely. In these court cases,
    there are so many aspects to follow, the evidence itself, the details of the court proceedings, the manner of presentation of both the prosecution and the defense, the pertinent laws and judges rulings and instructions. So much to learn and think about. You and the rest of the interns truly enrich my life and I am grateful for your time spent on this.

  13. Well, we graciously thank you, Tia. We appreciate all your wisdom and insight, wealth of knowledge and feedback.

    We have some pretty darn talented writers this term. But I think the best part of them is their great passion! I believe we all share the passion. It makes for an awesome team! I am well pleased.

    It has been quite a journey of learning and understanding the laws and trial procedure. But too the human element, compassion, has certainly been one of the most appreciated parts. I have met some very nice people!

  14. I was annoyed to read both sides had an agreement (informal?) that they would share, ahead of time, what evidence would be presented. Then the prosecutor breaks that agreement. Not cool.

  15. D.D.

    “Then the prosecutor breaks that agreement. Not cool.”

    If this is what occurred, I would agree “not cool”. I simply do not believe that we have sufficient information to know whether or not this is what happened. And I am speaking as someone who may be making her very first post ever which might loosely be construed as in support of the prosecution.

    What I believe on this issue probably goes far beyond what most people believe should occur. I believe that both sides of a case should be provided with all of the evidence. They should then sit down possibly with a judge or arbitrator and go through the material together to agree what will and what will not be presented.
    Both sides should then strictly adhere to this agreement. No “gotcha” moments allowed from either side.
    I realize that this is not our current system. That doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be.

  16. First, shaken baby syndrome is cited many times when there was actually an undiagnosed medical condition.
    Secondly, Steve Mount is a master at gaming the legal system. He cares more about “winning” than he cares about right and wrong or “justice”.

  17. sorry famous, but we can rule out any misdiagnosed illnesses or conditions. The doctor that just testified stated that he ruled everything out and tested for everything that he could possibly think of to rule out accidental vs non accidental death.

    • Elizabeth Bowler

      Dr Coulter also testified that the Vitamin D level was low, which is what you would expect to see in metabolic bone disease such as infantile rickets, so that is what I expect the defense will pursue when it is their turn

  18. Oops….that was in regards to Themis.

    But I will have a full updated article on todays testimony.

    I dont feel Mount is doing anything but his job as they all are.

    A bit of a solomne courtroom today…for some reason?

  19. No, Elizabeth, the vitamin D level had nothing to do with the cause if desth so.far. It was not low enough; per Pathologist s expert testimony.

    Brain showed several tramatic contusions.

    Lots more info in article, in am.

  20. Yes, I will read!

    I have to apologize in advance, I got real tired, had a singing gig with dad so I know my artucle suffers…lol.

    I hope at least most factual testimony is clear. But not my best, for sure…thanks for reading..

    I did forget to mention the doctor said the first thing he would have done if he knew the baby had fluid on brain was to remove it…….

  21. once again, we heard from another doctor, how draining the bloid and or fluid, may have posdibly changed the outcome……..this part bothers me the most…but, maybe its just from my own experience?

    still hard to hear.

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