By Mariel Barbadillo and Yelda Arghandiwal
October 31, 2016, marked the last day of the trial of the People v. Darnell Dorsey. Mr. Dorsey is charged with assaulting and causing fatal injury to his girlfriend’s son, Cameron Morrison, in January of 2014.
Judge Paul Richardson presided over closing arguments, beginning with Deputy District Attorney Michelle Serafin on behalf of the prosecution.
Ms. Serafin emotionally stated that Cameron was born on May 30, 2012, and died on January 25, 2014 – just several days shy of turning 20 months old.
She asserted Cameron died because of what the defendant did to him. That is, the defendant “violently beat and shook” the child, resulting in fatal injury.
Though Cameron is no longer able to personally attest to the pain he felt, Ms. Serafin said the extensive list of injuries medical experts found “speaks volumes.”
Based on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans and computerized tomography (CT) scans, medical experts determined the presence of bleeding, swelling, and axonal injury in Cameron’s brain. There were also signs of retinal hemorrhaging in both eyes and retinal detachment in his right eye.
Moreover, X-radiation scans showed Cameron had liver lacerations, lung contusions, and 18 broken ribs in three different stages of healing.
Medical experts also observed external indications of injury. Cameron had bruising on various parts of his body, primarily on his back. The bruises were consistent with his rib injuries, as if he had been gripped tightly around the torso.
Ms. Serafin stated that these injuries were the result of blunt force trauma. Blunt force trauma refers to not only the acceleration and deceleration associated with shaking a child, but compression and impact as well.
Medical experts testified that, aside from the healing rib fractures, Cameron’s other injuries were “fresh.” This indicates, the prosecution claimed, that there was “one violent event” that caused Cameron’s injuries.
Cameron’s mother, “VR,” testified that there was no history of a car accident or a significant fall that could have caused the traumatic injuries. Thus, the only other reasonable explanation is abuse.
The defense has contended that Cameron’s rib injuries resulted from cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) when Cameron was already unconscious. However, Mr. Dorsey and VR testified to performing CPR on Cameron while he was lying down flat, so it does not account for how his posterior ribs were fractured.
Medical experts who testified on behalf of the defense suggested Vitamin D deficiency or metabolic bone disease could have been the reason for Cameron’s multiple fractures. Still other medical experts testified that there were no indications of metabolic bone disease or rickets in Cameron’s X-rays. Moreover, Cameron did not have fractures in any other part of his body, aside from his ribs.
In addition, Cameron had liver lacerations, which cannot be attributed to pneumonia, CPR, hypoxia (deficiency in the amount of oxygen reaching tissues), or other explanations the defense provided for Cameron’s death. The only reasonable explanation for the liver laceration, the prosecution asserted, is blunt force trauma to the abdomen inflicted by the defendant.
Refuting the defense’s claim that pneumonia led to Cameron’s death, Ms. Serafin reminded the jury that doctors at Sutter Davis Hospital and UC Davis Medical Center did not see or hear pneumonia in Cameron’s lungs, though there were signs of bronchitis or bronchiolitis (inflammation of the bronchioles).
Cameron did not have a high white blood cell count, which is expected in an individual dealing with a sickness such as pneumonia.
Medical experts also tested Cameron’s blood for pre-existing blood conditions that would make him susceptible to bleeding. They did not find a pre-existing blood condition, but there were signs of disseminated intravascular coagulopathy (resulting in small blood clots developing throughout the bloodstream), which occurs secondary to a traumatic event.
Prosecution makes a closing statement that leaves the jury with a difficult decision
by Yelda Arghandiwal
On October 31, 2016, in People v. Dorsey, the defense and prosecution presented their closing statements in front of the jury. Deputy Public Defender Joseph Gocke was the last speaker from the defense. Mr. Gocke concluded that Cameron Morrison’s cause of death was due to cardiac arrest and hypoxia. Deputy DA Michelle Serafin spoke afterwards in rebuttal, insisting that Darnell Dorsey killed Cameron Morrison.
The defendant, Darnell Dorsey, the boyfriend of Cameron’s mother and the father of Cameron’s older half-brother, is being charged with California Penal Code sections 273a and 273ab. PC section 273a concerns any person who causes suffering or death to any child, and results in imprisonment in county jail or state prison. PC section 273ab is any person taking care of or having custody of a child under age eight, who assaults the child by force or produces bodily injuries to cause the death of a child, shall be imprisoned for 25 years to life. In this case, Cameron Morrison was under Mr. Dorsey’s care when he was taken to the hospital and later pronounced dead at 19 months of age on January 25, 2014.
Mr. Gocke began his statement by talking about “accepting the diagnosis.” Mr. Gocke said that “this is a case of low threshold of holding child abuse,” resulting in the hypothesis of shaken baby syndrome. Parents snap in response to excessive situations. They panic and try their best to do what it takes to wake their child. Mr. Gocke said, “What happened this day?” There were no conflicts before “VR” (Cameron’s mother) left for the gym. Everyone was complacent. “Darnell Dorsey was just a 21-year-old trying to figure things out.”
Darnell Dorsey lived in a trailer 17 feet from the nearest neighbor, and the neighbors didn’t hear any loud noises or “prolonged screaming,” said Mr. Gocke. There was no abuse to Cameron on that day. If there was any “blunt force trauma in the head, back or the torso, the neighbors would hear. They would hear things before, during and after what happened. But no one heard anything. It was just a low energy evening,” Mr. Gocke said.
Mr. Gocke said, explaining jury instructions that the jury would receive before deliberation, “The CALCRIM [No.] 223 states, ‘Facts may be proved by direct or circumstantial evidence or by a combination of both. Direct evidence can prove a fact by itself. For example, if a witness testifies he saw it raining outside before he came into the courthouse, that testimony is direct evidence that it was raining. Circumstantial evidence also may be called indirect evidence. Circumstantial evidence does not directly prove the fact to be decided, but is evidence of another fact or group of facts from which you may conclude the truth of the fact in question. For example, if a witness testifies that he saw someone come inside wearing a raincoat covered with drops of water, that testimony is circumstantial evidence because it may support a conclusion that it was raining outside.’ But there was no prolonged screaming or noise. No sign of lengthy physical attack.”
Mr. Gocke said that VR, her cousin “D” and Darnell all concluded that there were no arguments or screaming that day. Everyone was okay.
Mr. Gocke brought up a good point that a witness, “LW,” had made in her testimony. LW provided an observation of Darnell Dorsey. She had an 11-year-old kid and a 5-year-old kid who were both autistic. Sometimes Darnell Dorsey would watch them for her because she is a single mother and she always worked with kids. LW stated that, if an adult can take care of kids with autism, then that means the individual has a lot of patience and works well with kids. “LW would not come from Oregon to testify,” if she knew Darnell Dorsey was at fault, said Mr. Gocke. Darnell was only alone with Cameron for 40 minutes; Cameron was not abused, but he was sick. After the incident, VR, “BM” (an aunt) and “D” (cousin) observed Darnell’s steps that he said he took when he found Cameron unconscious. They all said that the steps made sense and they verified that it was accurate.
Darnell Dorsey testified that Cameron had been sick for days. The venous blood gas (VBG, a method of estimating systemic carbon dioxide and pH levels) showed there was too much carbon dioxide in the child’s system. Dr. Ogan had testified, “Pneumonia oozes white pus out of all 5 lobes of the lung at autopsy.”
Mr. Gocke said that Darnell is innocent, “not free of moral wrong,” he could have done better that evening. Darnell is “innocent of doing those accusations of child abuse. Darnell is innocent of not paying attention like everyone else.” Mr. Gocke recalled VR’s statement that Cameron was fine that evening. VR had made food for him and left for the gym. Mr. Gocke said all these allegations made that pounding your baby in the head and stepping on his torso are inaccurate.
Mr. Gocke talked about Dorsey’s statement during the interrogation with the two police officers. Mr. Gocke said the police officers went over the steps several times, trying to get a clear picture of the timeline of events, because none of the steps gave an explanation of the child’s death. “The actions of Darnell Dorsey (were that of) a young, immature man in panic.” His focus wasn’t on the child at the time, and he feels guilty but it doesn’t mean he killed him. Darnell was running back and forth putting water on Cameron’s face, which was verified by others later when they found Cameron’s Scooby-Doo pajamas wet. Darnell is sorry, saying that he should have been watching.
Mr. Gocke said VR ball fisted CPR on Cameron on the way to the hospital, which lasted for two to four minutes before they reached the paramedics. Dr. Vickers said that “if a person doesn’t have experience, absolutely possible to cause those injuries during CPR.” This ties into CALCRIM jury instruction No. 224, said Mr. Gocke.
CALCRIM No. 224 says, “Before you may rely on circumstantial evidence to conclude that a fact necessary to find the defendant guilty has been proved, you must be convinced that the People have proved each fact essential to that conclusion beyond a reasonable doubt. Also, before you may rely on circumstantial evidence to find the defendant guilty, you must be convinced that the only reasonable conclusion supported by the circumstantial evidence is that the defendant is guilty. If you can draw two or more reasonable conclusions from the circumstantial evidence, and one of those reasonable conclusions points to innocence and another to guilt, you must accept the one that points to innocence. However, when considering circumstantial evidence, you must accept only reasonable conclusions and reject any that are unreasonable.”
“You can presume that which can cause death (to be) legitimate reasons to doubt those accusations,” said Mr. Gocke. Having no training in CPR can cause those injuries to a baby. “Hypoxia can cause brain damage,” said Mr. Gocke, recalling Dr. Vickers’ statement. Dr. Omalu said there were no signs of pneumonia, but other experts say Cameron had pneumonia. Mr. Gocke explained the defense theory for the cause of Cameron’s death:
- Flu or illness
- Respiratory Arrest
- Cardiac Arrest
- Hypoxic/Ischemic brain damage
- Reperfusion (reoxygenation) injuries, subdural hemorrhage
- Broken ribs due to improper CPR
Mr. Gocke said that “all lines up with social history. All lines up with mucus plugs. All lines up with four or more Staphylococcus aureus (bacteria) on mucus plugs from Sutter Hospital. All lines up with lab results. All lines up with Dr. Ichel at UC Davis hospital observing mild bilateral sinusitis. All lines up with the observation of bronchitis.” Dr. Auer had testified that illness causes respiratory arrest. Respiratory arrest causes cardiac arrest. Cardiac arrest causes brain damage and hemorrhage.” If there was abuse, then why isn’t there any damage to the vertebrae?
Mr. Gocke showed an image of a game of tug of war, with the flag in the middle of the rope. He says that trials are like tug of war, pushing and pulling information before you. “No burden on defense to pull you all the way on their side,” Mr. Gocke said. But the jurors say it’s not fair to make a determination, the evidence is required to prove if Darnell Dorsey is innocent or not; however, there is significant information or evidence that these allegations are not accurate, said Mr. Gocke.
“What I ask of you, you start from the point that Darnell is innocent then present evidence of the case to make a decision. Mr. Dorsey is not guilty of those allegations. He is not guilty of physically abusing this child,” said Mr. Gocke. “When you go back there, I ask you to presume that Mr. Dorsey is not guilty.”
Then, at the prosecution rebuttal round, Ms. Serafin for the People presented their final closing statement.
Ms. Serafin said that there is “no burden to prove that this case is proven as charged. Medical defense show all injuries that Dr. Ogan found were caused by pneumonia followed by hypoxia. That is inconsistent with the injuries.” Ms. Serafin said Mr. Dorsey stated that Cameron had been sick for a few days and vomiting. VR also said Cameron had been sick for a few days, but she wasn’t worried. VR had testified she is the type of mother who overuses the hospital. “If Cameron had been sick then she would have taken him to the hospital, but instead she went to the gym,” said Ms. Serafin. “Everyone testified that he had been sick for a few days,” said Ms. Serafin.
“Mucus plug doesn’t mean he had pneumonia, that doesn’t mean he had Staphylococcus aureus in his lungs or X-rays,” said Ms. Serafin. You can see his lungs clearly from X-ray to X-ray that, had pneumonia existed, it would have showed. BM and D played with Cameron that day and none of them said he was sick. “Dr. Omalu said a child who has pneumonia will be very very sick and you can easily see it, said Ms. Serafin. Dr. Omalu and Dr. Ogan both said it is normal for a child who has been under the ventilator for a long time to end up with lung infection by the time of death. “What are the chances the minute VR is gone, Cameron drops dead?” VR wouldn’t leave him like that, said Ms. Serafin. “There is evidence of respiratory arrest but no evidence of cardiac arrest. Respiratory arrest means he stopped breathing, but his heart never stopped beating,” said Ms. Serafin.
In reperfusion injuries, if they occur, the heart stops beating so no blood would be going throughout the body. “The defense says that it causes all seven reasons of his death,” says Ms. Serafin. Reperfusion injury occurs when the blood has to float to the brain and eyes, but X-rays showed no blood flowing to the brain of eyes. “No question to show hypoxia and ischemia. What causes hypoxia and ischemia? The only answer is trauma and blunt force to cause brain damage and injuries to result in death,” said Ms. Serafin. There were signs of lung infection at the time of the autopsy, but not when Cameron was admitted to the hospital. “They look at reasons to the brain, back and torso, apart, and found a reason for the all issues. (Historic) traumatic brain injury resulted in all the injuries to Cameron’s body,” says Ms. Serafin.
Ms. Serafin asked whether Dr. Ogan found pneumonia to cause hypoxia. “None but trauma does. Pneumonia doesn’t cause optic injuries. Pneumonia, hypoxia, and ischemia don’t cause bruises to the face, torso and back, trauma does,” said Ms. Serafin.
Ms. Serafin continued, “Look at all the injuries, the only explanation that makes sense medically and scientifically is that the defendant caused injuries to Cameron. He killed Cameron. Darnell only wants us to see the Darnell Dorsey he has created for the court; the person who wears glasses to read when he doesn’t need to, the person who can’t read his own handwriting.”
Ms. Serafin touched on a few things that Dorsey testified to. “How do you know his story isn’t made up?” Darnell testified that he shook Cameron but he doesn’t remember the rest of it. “This is an event that you would remember.” How do you know his story isn’t made up? A few years back when Darnell Dorsey testified about his robbery case, he lied, saying that he didn’t do it at first. About his other case, he said he didn’t commit the crime. “Then later he said he was scared and didn’t know what to do so he attacked the guy and took his property.” He told the cops about Cameron. Darnell said he was scared and didn’t know what to do, “sounds familiar. He is lying,” said Ms. Serafin. He asked VR for forgiveness. “For what? For hurting her son and killing him.”
Dr. Kusserow’s findings show retinal hemorrhage and he 100% reviewed all the doctors’ findings, said Ms. Serafin. Two doctors at the UC Davis hospital said the brain was swollen and injured. “They didn’t say hypoxia causes injuries. The injuries happened first. None of them said CPR caused internal injuries. This child died as a result of trauma and abuse. Yes, you might have reasonable doubt. We’ve been in court for two months and you can’t talk to anyone about the case or share your thoughts. But what are you going to say when the case is over. Are you going to say he died of pneumonia and a guy is being accused? Or are you going to say that this man abused the child and killed him? What are you going to say,” Ms. Serafin asked, while staring the jury.
Ms. Serafin from the People was the last one to speak in closing statements. Then the judge asked all jurors to please go to a quiet room, discuss the case and agree on a verdict. Based on the jurors’ progress, it will be determined when to reassemble.