Every 10 seconds in the United States, there is a report of suspected maltreatment of a child, the equivalent of over 3 1/2 million calls per year. In three recent child abuse murder cases, Hayes+Associates (H+A), a Corvallis, OR consulting firm specializing in injury biomechanics, was called upon to provide expert testimony as to whether a child died by abuse or by unintentional trauma. In each instance, trial verdicts were consistent with H+A findings.
Based on the fundamental laws of physics and the science of injury biomechanics, testimony by H+A CEO, Wilson C. "Toby" Hayes, PhD, helped produce a guilty verdict in the case of a father accused of hurling his daughter off a cliff, played a pivotal role in obtaining another guilty verdict in the case of a caregiver accused of murder by child abuse, and was part of a judge's not-guilty verdict in the case of a domestic partner accused in the death of an infant by shaking. In the "shaken baby syndrome" case, the judge’s ruling indicated, "…shaking a child… would not have been possible…without showing further damage to the neck," a Judicial finding consistent with the testimony of Dr. Hayes.
In the trial of the estranged father accused of hurling his four year old daughter off a cliff, Dr. Hayes testified that, based on the laws of physics and the science of injury biomechanics, the girl’s injuries were inconsistent with the defense narrative of a slip or fall from the cliff, but were instead indicative of a single, high-speed impact with the cliff after having been launched by her father off the top. The father was sentenced to mandatory life in prison without parole.
In the case of the 29-year-old woman accused of killing her live-in boyfriend’s three-year-old daughter, H+A testimony demonstrated that the child’s massive skull fracture would not have resulted from a short fall onto a carpeted surface caused by a push from the family’s pit bull, as claimed by defense. Dr. Hayes’s testimony, with computerized simulation, helped to convince the jury that violent, traumatic abuse had caused the child’s death. The defendant was found guilty of second degree murder and sentenced to 19 1/2 years in prison.
In his testimony in the “shaken baby syndrome” bench trial, Dr. Hayes gave a historical overview of the Shaken Baby Syndrome theory, with illustrated details of the biomechanics of shaking. Dr. Hayes concluded: “it has been shown that the shaking process provides accelerations to the brain that are “far below,” not just, “just below”, but “far below” the thresholds that are accepted as injurious to the infant brain.” He further testified, “if there were shaking severe enough to cause subdural hematomas….you would have a catastrophic neck injury as well.” With his not-guilty verdict, the Judge concurred.
Despite efforts on the part of the Federal, State, and Local government, and others, national child abuse cases have increased steadily in recent decades. In 2017 alone, there were 674, 000 substantiated reports of child maltreatment, and the US Department of Health and Human Services estimates the number of child fatalities due to abuse and neglect may be as high as 3000 per year. Hayes said, “In the face of these tragic national statistics, it is all the more important that we bring to bear the best and most current biomechanical science to the criminal justice system, both to bring guilty perpetrators to justice and to protect those who have been wrongly accused.”