Defense claims thyroid condition caused girl's bruising, not father's spanking

tchitwood@ledger-enquirer.comMay 7, 2013 

Defense attorneys for the former Little League coach accused of badly bruising his 6-year-old daughter with a belt claim the child has a thyroid condition that makes her bruise easily, and she may have got the injuries playing at a baseball field.

But the pediatrician who examined the girl Sept. 11, 2012, felt that explanation could not possibly explain the marks he saw on her body: “These marks were something traumatic that happened to her,” said Dr. Mark Oliver of Rivertown Pediatrics.

He was among the first witnesses in the case against Brandon Wallis, who’s accused of beating his daughter repeatedly with a belt in Sept. 10, 2012. He is charged with first-degree child cruelty.

Defense attorney William Kendrick pressed Oliver to say he could not “rule out” hypothyroidism as a factor in the girl’s bruising, but Oliver would not say that.

“In my professional opinion, I rule it out,” the physician emphasized. The pediatrician acknowledged he did not test the girl’s thyroid hormone levels while examining her bruises, but said he did not think such testing was warranted. The child showed no other symptoms her hormone levels were off, and she told him what had happened as soon as he asked, he said.

He quoted her saying, “I got spanked,” so he asked, “With what?”

“A belt,” he said she replied.

As jurors saw photographs of square, purple bruises on the girl’s buttocks, Oliver told them: “There are so many blows here that to me it all coalesced together.” The jury also saw images of linear marks on the child’s lower back and thighs.

“This was worse than any spanking I had ever seen, in my opinion,” Oliver said.

He also testified that Wallis came to his office this past March to question him about the child’s thyroid condition, asking both whether elevated or lowered hormone levels could have caused the bruises. Oliver, who said he told Wallis then the girl’s thyroid condition wasn’t a factor, testified that to him Wallis seemed to be “reaching for things” and persisted in pursuing the thyroid angle. “I could go on,” the doctor said of Wallis’ questioning.

Wallis’ other attorney, Mark Shelnutt, promised in his opening statement to the jury Tuesday that the defense would show the whipping didn’t cause the injuries: “We’re going to prove to you there’s no way a belt caused these injuries,” he pledged.

He said that while the girl was with her father, he took her to a Little League practice where she and other kids played upon a rocky slope outside the field and smacked each other with tree limbs, which could have caused some of her bruises.

But the little girl, now just days away from her seventh birthday, told attorneys she didn’t fall while playing upon the rocky slope. Prosecutor LaRae Moore asked her if she ever got a “boo-boo,” meaning an injury, while on the hill. She shook her head no.

The court heard various reasons the child was spanked: From her elementary school that day she had brought home a “red note,” a color-coding for bad classroom behavior. Stephanie Wallis, the girl’s mother and Brandon Wallis’ ex-wife, said she was told her daughter was punished either because she wouldn’t stay in a corner during “time out” or would not go to sleep when told to.

She said her former husband has not been allowed any visitation with his daughter for seven months now.

In his opening statement, Shelnutt said Brandon and Stephanie Wallis married just two weeks after Brandon Wallis graduated from Hardaway High School. He began building up his own business, A Locksmith & Security, which he still owns. His daughter was born in 2006, and the couple divorced in 2009.

On the evening the girl was spanked, Stephanie Wallis dropped her off about 6:20 p.m. at the Pioneer Little League fields at Britt David Park, where her ex-husband was coaching. The girl spent that night with him, and he took her to school the next day.

Teachers noticed bruises on her legs, called the mother and alerted Columbus police and the Georgia Department of Family and Children Services. Then Stephanie Wallis took the girl to Rivertown Pediatrics, where Oliver examined her from 3:03 to 4:17 p.m., after which detectives took pictures of her bruises. Her mother took more photographs that night.

Based on that evidence, police got a warrant and arrested Wallis Sept. 17, 2012.

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