Crime

Couple continues fight for new trial in infant's 2008 death

TIM CHITWOOD

tchitwood@ledger-enquirer.com

 

A couple convicted of murder in the 2008 death of their newborn daughter were back in court Thursday in an ongoing effort to get a new trial.

Sentenced to life in prison Oct. 29, 2009, Albert Omenged Debelbot and Ashley Deone Debelbot have maintained their innocence in the death of daughter McKenzy, whom the couple’s defense team claims died as a result of abnormal development in the womb and a difficult delivery. The parents were convicted of crushing the infant’s skull.

Their defense attorneys over two days in mid-July presented witnesses who testified the child’s skull had a congenital abnormality that can go undetected. This condition in addition to the problematic birth at Fort Benning’s Martin Army Hospital could have caused internal bleeding in the brain, they said.

Thursday was the prosecution’s turn to present evidence before Muscogee Superior Court Judge Art Smith III. Assistant District Attorney Sadhana Dailey summoned Dr. Susan Palasis, a pediatric radiologist and neuroradiologist from Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, who refuted the defense evidence from July.

She said McKenzy had skull fractures and massive bleeding from a “severe traumatic episode” comparable to what an unrestrained baby would sustain in a car wreck. “They were very bad fractures,” she said, adding she believed they were “intentionally inflicted,” not the result of a difficult birth.

“Somebody injured this child,” she said.

Had the fractures been present when the baby was delivered, the hospital staff would have noticed a deformed and swollen head, she said. Instead records showed Mckenzy had a normal delivery, normal bone density and a symmetrical skull indicative of normal brain development, she said.

According to court records, Mckenzy was born May 29, 2008, and discharged at 1 p.m. the following May 31. Early the next morning, June 1, the parents checked on the baby in their Buena Vista Road apartment and found she had a lump on her head. They rushed her back to the hospital, where the infant was pronounced dead at 3:55 a.m.

Palasis testified that hospital records had no notations of brain damage when the infant was discharged, so the trauma must have occurred afterward.

Palasis criticized defense witness Dr. Julie Mack, a radiologist who in July testified the right side of the Mckenzy’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.

Mack in her testimony used three-dimensional computer imaging software to show Mckenzy’s skull. Palasis said that software, called OsiriX, can be manipulated to fit the user’s assumptions.

“They’re prone to user variability,” Palasis said of the images. Computerized tomography or CT scans that combine x-rays with computer processing are more accurate, she said, adding, “For a medical report, you would never use OsiriX.”

Under cross-examination from Ashley Debelbot’s attorney James Anderson, Palasis acknowledged she hadn’t the expertise to address other aspects of Mckenzy’s health.

Anderson said Mckenzy’s delivery was problematic, with the physician having to free one of the newborn’s shoulders to remove her from the birth canal. The next day, the infant was not feeding properly, and probably should have been re-evaluated before she was discharged, he said.

He noted also that the circumference of the baby’s head between birth and discharge increased from 33½ centimeters to 35½, and asked Palasis if that were normal.

As a radiologist, Palasis said she didn’t know whether it was normal or not.

Asked how soon doctors would detect a brain hemorrhage, Palasis said it varies: “Sometimes we see it sooner, sometimes we don’t. It’s just how medicine works.”

The testimony is to resume today in Smith’s seventh-floor Government Center courtroom.

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