An attorney representing a 19-year-old man accused of shaking and seriously injuring his 7-month-old baby girl at his Evansville home in February argued in court Tuesday that the child's injuries may actually be due to complications connected to a routine vaccination.
Don Tolin made the argument before Natrona County Circuit Court Judge Mike Huber at the preliminary hearing of his client, Anthony Potter, who was subsequently bound over for trial in 7th District Court on a felony child abuse charge.
"We think there are alternate theories," Tolin told the judge, regarding how the baby was injured.
The hearing began with the testimony of sheriff's Investigator Chuck Davis.
Davis told the court that doctors who treated the baby first at the Wyoming Medical Center and later at Denver Children's Hospital agreed that the injuries were the result of having been shaken.
According to court documents, the baby girl was taken to the WMC by ambulance around 6:30 p.m. Feb. 3.
Despite reported efforts that Potter tried to resuscitate his daughter, emergency crews said they arrived at Potter's home in the 400 block of King Street to find the baby unresponsive.
The child was placed in intensive care but was later moved to pediatrics. She reportedly began to have seizures Feb. 6 and was flown to Denver.
The baby, who has since been released from the hospital, is in the custody of the Department of Family Services, which also took custody of a 3-year-old boy living in the home.
During his testimony Tuesday, Davis told Assistant District Attorney Mike Schafer that every doctor, including the child's primary physician, has concluded that the girl suffered "bilateral retinal hemorrhaging consistent with shaken-baby syndrome."
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Under cross-examination, Tolin asked Davis if any of the doctors had offered a secondary diagnosis - specifically in regard to injury from the vaccination for diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus (DPT) the baby reportedly received three days prior to being hospitalized.
Davis said they had not.
Tolin then asked Davis if he was aware of U.S. Department of Health and Human Services warnings that DPT vaccinations had, in the past, caused seizures in young children within seven days of receiving the shot.
"But not bilateral hemorrhaging," Davis replied.
Outside the courtroom, Potter's girlfriend and the baby's mother, 25-year-old Sherri Dahlstedt, tearfully denounced the criminal charges filed against her boyfriend. She says prosecutors are wrong to disregard the possibility that the vaccine could have caused her daughter to suffer a seizure violent enough to cause the hemmoraging.
"All I know is, there's a 19-year-old boy sitting in jail for nothing," she said. "There's not a doubt in my mind that he didn't hurt her. I know he didn't."
Investigators say that, as a result of Potter's actions, the baby suffered vision damage and has to regain her cognitive skills.
But Dahlstedt says she has attended doctor visits with her child and the baby does not appear to have suffered permanent vision loss, nor loss of cognitive skills.
In addition to the child abuse charge, Potter is accused of misdemeanor assault and battery of Dahlstedt that allegedly occurred two days before the baby was hospitalized.