Aided by a team of attorneys, the parents convicted of fatally injuring a newborn who died at Fort Benning’s Martin Army Community Hospital in June 2008 are back in Muscogee Superior Court seeking a new trial.
Albert Omenged Debelbot and Ashley Deone Debelbot were convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison on Oct. 29, 2009, but defense attorneys say the couple didn’t get a fair trial, and the death of daughter McKenzy could have resulted from abnormal development in the womb and a difficult delivery.
The parents were convicted of crushing the infant’s skull, which had a fracture and severe bleeding, but defense witnesses Thursday testified to other medical issues they said could have caused the baby’s death, issues that developed during pregnancy.
Pediatrician Peter Dehnel said the baby’s skull had a malformation, with a plate on one side of the skull overriding one on the other side. Such a “congenital abnormality” can go undetected for months, he said.
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That along with a “rough delivery” could have led to internal bleeding that was so slow it was not apparent, he said: “It was more like a slow oozing over about 60 hours of time.”
No cuts or bruises showed the infant was abused, he said: “There are no external signs of trauma on this baby.” Such evidence should have been apparent, as a medical examination showed bruises where emergency room staff tried to start IVs, he said.
He said a fracture on the left side of the baby’s skull could have resulted from the delivery, and the right side never formed properly.
Defense attorneys also called to the stand Dr. Julie Mack, a radiologist, who testified the right side of the baby’s skull had a hole in it with “amorphous” or rounded edges, not the sharp, well-defined edges evident of an acute or sudden fracture caused by force.
Also unlike an acute injury, no broken pieces of skull fitting the hole were present, she said: The bone simply never developed.
The infant’s brain was too small, indicating a loss of brain cells during gestation, likely caused by a lack of blood supply, Mack said.
Mack and Assistant District Attorney Sadhana Dailey briefly sparred over Mack’s testimony that she consulted with physician Dr. Waney Squier. Dailey challenged Squier’s credibility, noting the pediatric neuropathologist faced allegations by the General Medical Council of the United Kingdom, which accused Squier of offering expert court testimony that was “deliberately misleading, dishonest, and brought the reputation of the medical profession into disrepute.”
The council alleged Squier “provided an expert opinion evidence by way of written report and/or oral evidence outside her field of expertise.”
Mack said she was aware of those allegations.
Court records show the Debelbots’ child was born at 4 p.m. May 29, 2008, at Martin Army, and discharged at 1 p.m. May 31, 2008. About 1:30 a.m. the next day, the parents awoke in their Buena Vista Road apartment to find the infant had a lump on her head. They rushed her back to the hospital, where she was pronounced dead at 3:55 a.m.
A Georgia Bureau of Investigation medical examiner told police the child’s trauma was consistent with her having been slammed against a wall or stomped on the head. The Debelbots denied that.
When arrested in 2008, Albert Debelbot was a 22-year-old specialist with Fort Benning’s Ranger Training Brigade, according to Ledger-Enquirer archives.
Among the lawyers now aiding the Debelbots is Carrie Sperling, codirector of the Wisconsin Innocence Project, who has expertise in cases involving alleged head trauma to young children. Sperling is a professor with the University of Wisconsin Law School in Madison.