"We must do everything in our power to protect our children," declared Los Angeles County (CA) District Attorney Jackie Lacey, following the horrific torture and murder of an eight-year-old boy at the hands of his mother and her boyfriend. This declaration and her call to be "innovative" were the catalysts in the formation of our office's Complex Child Abuse Section, one of the first of its kind in the nation. Although I have had the privilege of handling a variety of interesting and significant cases, none have been more intellectually challenging or emotionally rewarding than those involving AHT and complex child homicides. In the almost three years since the unit was created, we have learned some important lessons, including the realization that the best evidence in a complex child physical abuse case is the medical evidence. This insight is the basis for our innovative work with our child abuse pediatricians. Once we collaborated with them and focused on working as a multidisciplinary team with law enforcement and other criminal justice allies, we began to build stronger cases. Consequently, we have been able to hold more abusers accountable for their crimes.
THE CASE THAT CHANGED EVERYTHING
I will never forget that Friday afternoon in September 2016 when I learned about a one-year-old child, whom I will call Tim. I was in my office and received the first of many calls from board certified child abuse pediatrician Dr. Sandra Murray, who told me that she was treating a baby who was extremely abused and dying. She had not heard from law enforcement yet, so I made a few calls to connect them. Rather than waiting to read about the investigation in a pile of paperwork during the filing process months later, I went to meet Dr. Murray and law enforcement at the hospital.
As I entered the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, I saw little Tim laying lifeless, hooked up to tubes and machines that were sustaining basic life functions. He looked at peace. Despite the injuries all over his tiny body, there seemed to be a palpable sense of relief that this beautiful baby no longer had to endure the terrifying pain that his mother's boyfriend inflicted upon him.
When the unsuspecting patrol deputy responded to the hospital to interview Dr. Murray, I asked if I could stand by just to observe. Dr. Murray carefully described Tim's medical condition as simply as she could, but I still had to encourage the deputy to ask, "What does that medical term...