By Mariel Barbadillo and Sarah Senan
On October 19, 2016, Judge Paul Richardson presided over the resumption of the trial of the People v. Darnell Dorsey. Mr. Dorsey is charged with assaulting and causing fatal injury to his girlfriend’s 20-month-old son, Cameron Morrison, in January of 2014.
Mario Alfaro, a Police Services Specialist for the Davis Police Department, was recalled to provide further testimony. A certified legal intern began the prosecution’s examination of the witness, under the supervision of Deputy District Attorney Michelle Serafin.
During his previous appearance in court, Specialist Alfaro said he was involved in the investigation of Mr. Dorsey’s home. There, he searched a trashcan and found tissues with bloodstains.
The prosecution asked if Spc. Alfaro immediately placed the tissues in sealed envelopes for evidence. Spc. Alfaro said he did not. The tissues felt wet at the time, so he let them air dry.
The prosecution then prompted the witness to open the envelopes and present the evidence. There was one baby wipe and four tissues, all of which tested positive in a presumptive blood test.
The topic shifted to the investigation of a gray 2012 Hyundai Accent processed for evidence on January 24, 2014. Spc. Alfaro was unsure to whom the car belonged, but he recalled searching it because he was instructed to look for bloodstains and trace evidence.
In cross-examination, carried out by Deputy Public Defender Martha Sequeira, Spc. Alfaro disclosed that nothing of evidentiary value was recovered from the car.
Ms. Sequeira asked if the tissues with bloodstains were placed in the trashcan in a manner that suggested they were meant to be hidden. Mr. Alfaro said they were not.
When tested, the presence of blood was strongest on the baby wipe. Ms. Sequeira suggested that the wetness of a baby wipe could have transferred onto surrounding, absorbent tissues. Alfaro agreed. Aside from blood, Spc. Alfaro did not test the tissues for other bodily fluids.
Moreover, the tissues had been in evidence for two and a half years. The tissues were only tested on September 26, 2016, after the trial had already began, due to a request made by the intern assisting in this case. The district attorney had gone to the police department and looked at evidence in February of this year. They did not deem testing of the tissues necessary at the time.
During redirect examination, the prosecution asked if Spc. Alfaro was able to differentiate bloodstains resulting from direct contact and from transfer. After examining the tissues, Alfaro opined that the blood patterns were consistent with direct contact. The specialist based his opinion on the darker appearance of the stain at the center and the lighter appearance on the periphery, as if the blood had seeped outward.
Ms. Sequeira questioned Spc. Alfaro’s training to analyze bloodstains, specifically bloodstains that are almost two years old. Alfaro stated he had taken a crime scene investigation course pertaining to bloodstaining.
However, Spc. Alfaro disclosed that he had never conducted a test to determine if bloodstains are the result of direct contact or transfer prior to doing so in front of the court. He also said there was no way to determine if his opinion is accurate.
The prosecution’s next witness was David Marshall, an investigator with the district attorney’s office. He was responsible for coordinating witnesses and conducting interviews in the investigation of Cameron’s death.
He was specifically recalled by the prosecution to attest to his transportation of the envelopes of bloodstained tissues from the Davis Police Department to the Department of Justice on September 27, 2016. His testimony was brief, but he remains under subpoena for further questioning by the defense later in the trial.
by Sarah Senan
The third witness of the afternoon was Davis Police Services Specialist Danielle Luiz. Specialist Luiz is a non-sworn service specialist for the Davis Police Department. Spc. Luiz has been a evidence and property specialist for approximately five years. Her training consists of a evidence and property course and a three-month in-house training program.
The prosecution began by asking Spc. Luiz how she came in contact with the piece of evidence, specifically the five tissues, from this case. Spc. Luiz explained that the process began by taking the evidence to a one-way locker, retrieving it, and verifying that all the records listed match the computer program. Her role also consisted of making sure that the red tape and description of the evidence corresponds to the records in the system. The evidence is never opened by a specialist and always remains sealed during this process of verification.
Spc. Luiz explained that there was a request sent in from the district attorney to send the evidence to the Department of Justice. This happened through completion of a form. Once that form was completed, her job was to send the evidence over to the DOJ. The evidence was transported by one of the department vehicles.
The prosecution then revealed People’s Exhibits 51, 52, 53, and 14. Ms. Luiz was asked to identify each exhibit for identification purposes. Exhibit 51 appeared to be children’s sweatpants, Exhibit 52 was a t-shirt, Exhibit 53 was a white long sleeve t-shirt, and Exhibit 14 was identified as a Scooby-Doo top.
The prosecution had no further questions.
Deputy Public Defender Martha Sequeira began questioning during re-cross examination. Ms. Sequeira asked Specialist Luiz if she had been requested to send the evidence to the Department of Justice prior to June 3, 2016. Spc. Luiz responded by saying she was not. After further questioning, Luiz revealed that many pieces of evidence were checked in from the trailer on Olive Drive.
The final witness of the afternoon was Dr. Angela Vickers, a witness who had testified previously. Dr. Vickers is a specialist in pediatric child abuse. Deputy Public Defender Joseph Gocke questioned Dr. Vickers about “shaken baby syndrome.” Dr. Vickers explained that the name has been changed to “abusive head trauma” and that it is a result of a caregiver losing control when a baby is crying excessively.
There was no information given from neighbors that they had heard excessive crying coming from a baby. Additionally, it was confirmed that there were no arguments heard between the mother and Mr. Dorsey.
Mr. Gocke ended his questioning by asking if an an individual who has had experience with an autistic child would generally be more patient. Dr. Vickers responded that it is a possibility.
During redirect, Deputy DA Michelle Serafin asked Dr. Vickers if a person would generally treat their own child differently than they would treat a neighbor’s child. Dr. Vickers gave an affirmative response. It was also confirmed, by Dr. Vickers, that a parental figure who is abusing a child at home would not abuse the child of their neighbor. She also added that a person’s patience with an autistic child does not correlate to patience at home.
Dr. Vickers testified that the idea of Mr. Dorsey shaking Cameron, after realizing the child was unconscious, is not viewed as a reasonable response. Most parents or caregivers would call 911 or seek emergency services immediately. Dorsey’s actions did not reflect that.
On the topic of healing fractures, Dr. Vickers explained some of the irregularities. She stated that there are three stages of healing fractures. Often there are new fractures that are visible on the body and on X-rays. Other times, fractures are old and do not appear on the X-rays. An older fracture, one that is around four months old, is no longer likely to be painful for a child.
When asked about cardiac arrest, Dr. Vickers explained that it is uncommon for a child under two to experience cardiac arrest. Cardiac arrest is usually caused by a secondary cause. At an older age, it is possible to experience cardiac arrest because heart problems become relevant. However, it is very unlikely that a two-year-old would have suffered cardiac arrest because children that age are not prone to having those sorts of heart problems.
When Ms. Serafin asked about the renaming of the syndrome, Dr. Vickers testified that, in 2005, the American Academy of Pediatricians renamed the child abuse syndrome “abusive head trauma.” A reason it was renamed was because it could not be determined that shaking was the only mechanism that could cause the brain trauma injuries inflicted on a child. The mechanisms were found to differ and could deal with not only shaking, but also the level of impact. Earlier reports have not previously put a strong emphasis on impact.
Mr. Gocke began re-cross examination. He questioned whether a child unable to articulate depends on body language, tone of voice, and what the child is actually trying to say. A young child depends more on body language and the tone of voice because the ability to speak is not yet adept. Dr. Vickers validated his statements.
Furthermore, Dr. Vickers stated that she had knowledge of shaken baby syndrome being renamed abusive head trauma because trauma could be caused by impact, shaking of the baby, abuse, and blunt force. She said she had full knowledge and had covered stories about biomechanical engineers doing experiments using dummies, that are the size and weight of an actual baby, made from plastic or fiber. The studies indicated that shaking a baby’s head does not cause brain trauma.
However, when questioned by Ms. Serafin, Dr. Vickers stated that a few years later, there were cases that proved shaking does cause brain trauma.
During the final re-cross examination, Mr. Gocke asked if the witness had read the Washington Post and other articles relating to the biomechanical engineers who did the experiment, where the reviews indicated that the dummies were in fact similar to babies.
Dr. Vickers responded, “No.”
Mr. Gocke stated that he had no further questions for the witness.