The forensic pathologist who had spent the better part of 30 years investigating violent deaths walked into a Minnesota courtroom in 2012, braced to testify at another grueling murder trial.
Jonathan Arden quickly took stock of the case: A 4-month-old boy had collapsed in his father’s care and died from lethal head injuries. Damien Marsden, 33, faced decades in prison, accused of shaking the baby to death.
Once, Arden had been a firm believer in Shaken Baby Syndrome, long considered a deadly form of child abuse. But in rural Warren, Minn., in April 2012, the former state expert took the stand for the defense, describing how a thin layer of old blood on the surface of the baby’s brain was a telltale sign of an injury that had occurred before the baby had been left alone with his father.
Jurors spent less than three hours deliberating before acquitting Marsden of murder.
“A lot of people in this field, especially many of the pediatricians, make statements that are absolute and dogmatic and do not allow for the exceptions that we know exist,” Arden told The Washington Post. “Do you want to be involved in somebody’s wrongful conviction because you had this dogmatic approach that it must be trauma, it must be shaking?”
Arden is among a number of doctors who once diagnosed Shaken Baby Syndrome but now doubt the science behind it, swayed by more than a decade of research that’s documented how diseases, genetic conditions and accidents can, in some cases, produce the conditions long attributed to violent shaking.