By Julienne Correa and Sarah Senan
In this morning’s session of the trial of the People vs. Darnell Dorsey, inconsistent testimonies came from witnesses that question the legitimacy of earlier reports and reveal more information about Dorsey’s personality.
It is the morning of October 12, 2016, with Judge Paul Richardson presiding.
Darnell Dorsey is charged with Cal. Penal Code sections 273a and 273ab, assaulting and causing fatal injury to his girlfriend’s 20-month-old child, Cameron Morrison. Deputy Public Defenders Martha Sequeira and Joseph Gocke represent Darnell Dorsey, and Deputy District Attorney Michelle Serafin represents the People.
The first witness called to stand by the People was a doctor that assessed Cameron’s X-ray. According to his reports and all three views taken, there was no indication in the images of pneumonia in the lungs. However, he disclosed that there seemed to be an appearance of a mucus plug, and a chest X-ray does not show many of the physical conditions.
The next witness, “AG,” was a neighbor of Darnell Dorsey’s ex-girlfriend. She was good friends with the ex-girlfriend and lived in the same complex as her grandmother. One of the times she saw Dorsey was at the ex-girlfriend’s pregnancy appointment, where he became violent due to her refusal to leave with him.
The defense cross-examined her by searching for holes in her story. It was revealed that a paternity test was taken to prove that Dorsey was not the father, but was instead “framed” for more child support. His ex-girlfriend was supposedly under investigation for heroin use during her pregnancy, and she delivered her baby prematurely. It was clear that the witness had no independent recollection of the defendant being physical.
The next witness was “MS,” the boyfriend of Cameron Morrison’s maternal grandmother, “TR.” He dated TR for two years where they lived together and babysat the two boys (Cameron and his older half-brother, the latter being Dorsey’s biological son). According to his account, the boys were very polite. On the night of the incident, he came to the hospital, but stayed outside, due to upsetting memories. The defense approached this witness by mentioning his use of methamphetamine and his convictions of usage with TR. However, the witness said that he had been clean in the two years he was dating TR. The defense continued with mentioning MS’s involvement in a burglary ring and in soliciting prosecution.
Cameron’s aunt, “BM,” was called to the stand. The prosecution asked if she recalled a time that the child’s mother was subjected to domestic violence. Her main response was that she had heard of one incident, but she did not completely remember. She acknowledged that her reports were inconsistent, as she said, “I do not remember” and “I was forced like this.”
“Officer H.” interviewed BM, and he was called to the stand to confirm his reports on the case. He mentioned BM’s hesitance about discussing the domestic violence incident or any motive that could implicate Dorsey.
Prosecution Continues with Witnesses Relating to Cameron Morrison
by Sarah Senan
After the break, Deputy District Attorney Michelle Serafin called Dr. Kurt Kusserow to the stand. Dr. Kusserow is currently employed as an Emergency Medicine Physician at Sutter Davis Hospital. Based on the CT (computerized tomography) scan, Dr. Kusserow’s findings indicated that rib fractures and a subdural hemorrhage were present in Cameron. He also examined Cameron’s eyes, multiple times, and took note that Cameron was both unreactive and unresponsive, and his eyes contained retinal hemorrhages.
Deputy Public Defender Joseph Gocke began the cross-examination and presented the court with Exhibit 500. Dr. Kusserow was able to identify the images presented by Mr. Gocke as two tools: an otoscope (for visual examination of the eardrum and outer ear canal) and an ophthalmoscope (for visual examination of the eye). The latter tool is used to check the conditions of the eyes, to see the retina and the pupil, and to detect reactivity.
Mr. Gocke asked Dr. Kusserow if he knew that Cameron had an abnormal increased anion gap (the measure of negatively charged particles in the blood) of 24.3 millimoles per liter in his blood, where the normal range is said to be in the range of 6-16 mmoles/liter. So high an anion gap can signal that there is too much acid in the blood, and can be due to a build up of lactic acid. When questioned on lactic acidosis, Dr. Kusserow’s stated that hypoxia (deficiency in oxygen to organs and tissue) due to lung disorders and seizures could cause lactic acid disorders.
During re-direct, Dr. Kusserow said that lack of perfusion (the delivery of blood to a capillary bed in biological tissue), creating a decreased level of oxygenation to the cells of the body, causes lactic acidosis. This is seen after brain trauma and, if it is significant enough, it causes the patient to become unable to breathe.
As cross-examination resumed by Mr. Gocke, it became known that Cameron’s brain made little effort to breathe and the issue of brain damage could be a result of not receiving oxygen from the heart. Although Cameron was receiving CPR for a bare minimum of five to ten minutes, the doctor testified that when the child was admitted to the hospital, the primary cause of his state was not acidosis due to hypoxia from a lung disorder. Mr. Gocke asked Dr. Kusserow if looking at a Merck Manual on medical terminology would refresh his memory on the condition. Dr. Kusserow then testified that acidosis can be caused from lack of hydration, hypoxia, certain diabetic medicine, and alcohol toxides. It was concluded that hypoxia was the number one factor in the child’s condition upon admission to the hospital.
Next, Mr. Gocke asked Dr. Kusserow if he was aware that his hospital took a mucus plug that came back testing positive for bacteria. Dr. Kusserow responded that he was unaware of that.
Ms. Serafin continued her questioning during further re-direct, and asked if a staph condition, a common contaminant of the skin, meant that pneumonia was present. Dr. Kusserow responded that pneumonia is a clinical diagnosis – meaning that a patient’s history, lung sounds, and X-rays are all relevant in order to be able to put forth such a diagnosis.
The next witness, Officer John Evans, was re-called to testify. Officer Evans wrote the prepared report on Cameron Morrison. He did not remember when the report was actually written. However, he did recall that it was prepared contemporaneously with the charging of Mr. Dorsey. Officer Evans also testified that he was familiar with the hemorrhages in Cameron’s eyes, as he talked to a doctor after Mr. Dorsey’s arrest. His report indicates the conditions of Cameron’s eyes in quotation marks because that information was conveyed to him by one of the doctors that examined Cameron.
The final witness of the afternoon was Dr. Theresa Murdock-Vlautin. Dr. Murdock-Vlautin specializes in Pediatric Critical Care. She has been a medical doctor since 2000 and has been at the UC Davis Medical Center since 2008. Her role consists of, but is not limited to, training medical students, residents, and some fellows. Additionally, Dr. Murdock-Vlautin oversees the clinical care unit and checks up on patients, performing any appropriate adjustments to the care of the patients when necessary.
She stated that her hospital is the only Level 1 hospital in the area and that she has experience treating children with brain injuries. Dr. Murdock-Vlautin noted Cameron’s case as a non-accidental brain injury, and she has seen similar cases with children under the age of five. She continued to explain that some features of non-accidental trauma could be an unresponsive patient, subdural hematoma, bruising (of the chest, arms, etc.), brain swelling, retinal hemorrhages, and multiple posterior rib fractures. These all are a constellation of findings that would be linked to non-accidental trauma.
With regard to Cameron’s medical history, Dr. Murdock-Vlautin did review his medical history (X-rays, CT and MRI scans, and other available reports) entirely. She stated that when she examined the CT scan she became aware that there were diffused swellings of the brain. In other words, blood had collected outside of the brain, which is referred to as subdural hematoma.
At one point overnight, Cameron became aware and stable. His blood pressure did decrease and changes on the ventilator were made because his lungs were not working properly. However, Cameron’s injuries to the brain remained present, and the swelling continued. Cameron was soon unable to breathe, even with the help of the ventilator.
When asked about pneumonia, Dr. Murdock-Vlautin stated that any signs of pneumonia would be visible on the CT scan. She also stated that pneumonia, cardiac arrest, and rib fractures do not cause retinal bleeding nor do they link to subdural hemorrhaging.
Murdock-Vlautin then testified that a brain death examination was made. This is a policy that is followed when improper breathing is present. Such an exam consists of, but is not limited to, testing the brainstem reflexes, testing for a responsive pupil, placing cold water in the earlobe, causing pressure to the spine, all in order to see if a response can be elicited.
Mr. Gocke began his cross-examination. He asked if diabetes insipidus (when the kidneys excrete large amounts of very dilute, or insipid, urine) is related to the swelling of the brain, and Dr. Murdock-Vlautin responded that it is. Dr. Murdock-Vlautin also stated that she did not examine Cameron’s eyes. Mr. Gocke then asked if Murdock-Vlautin has ever confirmed any of her speculations of other cases that she perceived as non-accidental trauma, to which she responded in the negative.
During the re-direct, Ms. Serafin asked if Cameron was infused with epinephrine (often used to treat cardiac arrest) because of his blood pressure. Dr. Murdock-Vlautin had to increase the dose and add other medications because his body became unstable and epinephrine is needed to support circulation. She said that diabetes insipidus becomes a worry when swelling of the brain is present, and there is close monitoring for such a condition.
Lastly, Mr. Gocke had more questions on epinephrine. However, when Dr. Murdock-Vlautin testified that that she does not know which bone protects the pituitary gland, Mr. Gocke stated that he had no further questions.
People v. Dorsey is scheduled to resume on Thursday, October 13, at 8:30am in Department 13.