Amid setbacks to shaken-baby cases, one mother waits
WOBURN — Lindsey Keane takes some comfort in knowing that her baby boy’s death has, in very real ways, helped others. His transplanted heart helped revive a critically ill infant boy, and his liver went to another infant who has been thriving.
Still, overwhelming feelings of grief and anger dominate Keane’s day-to-day life six months after her 1-year-old son, Noah Larson, died of traumatic head injuries while he and his twin sister, Emelia, were being cared for by a baby sitter.
No charges have been filed, even as a state document shows that doctors also detected old skull fractures on both children and a judge has preliminarily found that the twins’ injuries likely occurred at the baby sitter’s home.
Keane fears her son’s case — and perhaps other infant murder investigations in Massachusetts — are languishing because prosecutors and assistant medical examiners may be hesitant to pursue child-abuse cases after recent courtroom setbacks.
“I’m worried that politics comes before the needs of our family,” said Keane, 24, while in her living room in Woburn. “Six months is a long time to have zero information.”
In recent years, defense attorneys in a number of criminal cases have successfully challenged medical evidence used by law enforcement officials to prove infants died of assaults or violent shaking.
The state’s highest court last year vacated guilty verdicts, and ordered new trials, in two shaken-baby cases involving severe injuries to children from Haverhill and Woburn. Also, in the past few years, Middlesex County prosecutors dropped two infant murder cases — involving the deaths of a Cambridge girl and a Malden boy — after the state medical examiner’s office changed the manner of the deaths from homicide to “undetermined.”
In most of these cases, defense attorneys argued that the child’s fatal bleeding or fractures resulted from relatively rare medical disorders, or may have been due to accidents such as short falls from a couch.
A spokeswoman for Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan declined to comment on the probe into the death of Keane’s baby, other than to say the medical examiner’s office has yet to release a manner of death and that “the investigation is active and ongoing.”
To Keane, the evidence indicates that someone in the baby sitter’s home was responsible for Noah’s tragic death on Aug. 15, 2016. She provided the Globe with a document from the state’s child-protection agency that says in part, “the current facts point to Noah’s fatal injury having been sustained while in the home of his babysitter.”
That same document from the Department of Children and Families noted another disturbing aspect of the case: It said doctors found that both twins had old skull fractures on the back of their heads, likely a week or so old, suggesting abuse occurred prior to Noah’s fatal injuries. The twin sister also had some healing fractures near her ribs and limbs, Keane said.
Keane acknowledged that someone, other than the baby sitter, could have had access to her twins while they were at the baby sitter’s one-bedroom apartment. For about a year, the sitter primarily received the twins when they came, but sometimes the sitter’s husband was there, as well as some other relatives. The sitter also cared for her own toddler while watching the twins, Keane said.
Keane said she had a good relationship with the sitter — a former friend of Keane’s — and paid her $65 a day to care for the twins while she worked part time in office jobs and sales and the twins’ father, Paul Larson, 26, worked as a solar energy surveyor.
The Globe attempted to reach the baby sitter for her account, but was unsuccessful.
When the old injuries were discovered, Keane said, state investigators also felt the need to check out whether she or Paul could be responsible. Social workers temporarily removed Emelia and Keane’s 7-year-old daughter, from a different relationship, from the Woburn apartment that she and Paul shared. The two children were placed with grandparents.
Keane said she understood the need for those precautions, and sought to be open with investigators, including about all the ups and downs that she and Paul have experienced as young, sometimes struggling, parents.
She said they were reunited with the children three weeks later. Records show state investigators began focusing on what happened in the baby sitter’s home, and a judge concluded it was also highly unlikely multiple people assaulted the twins.
A spokeswoman for the DCF declined to say if the baby sitter’s child remains in her custody.
Child-protection advocates say it’s too early to say whether prosecutors have become timid in the wake of recent courtroom challenges.
They say many infant homicide cases that rely primarily on medical evidence are known to take months, if not years, to develop, and some never go forward because of a lack of solid evidence to convict an individual.
In a different county, the cause of another baby’s death is also pending. A spokeswoman for the Plymouth County district attorney’s office said that “the investigation is ongoing” into the death last December of a 2-year-old Brockton child, who apparently suffered head injuries while in the care of the mother’s boyfriend.
These days, Keane said she does everything in her power to draw public attention to Noah’s death, hoping prosecutors don’t forget her brown-haired, mild-mannered son who had a smile for everyone.
Through tears, she said she often revisits that moment when she got the call from the sitter saying Noah was unresponsive, and then paramedics were called. She said she has to live with the belief that she made a child-care decision that proved deadly, even though the setup once seemed quite ideal.
“She was someone we trusted,” Keane said.