Prosecution rests case in Wiley murder trial, medical witness says abuse head trauma caused infant’s death

Medical witness says abuse head trauma caused infant’s death
Published: Nov. 16, 2023 at 10:38 AM CST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

QUINCY (WGEM) - The third day of testimony in the murder trial for 35-year-old Travis Wiley, who is accused of shaking an infant to death on Jan. 20, 2018, began with another medical witness.

The prosecution’s last witness

Special prosecutor Jon Barnard called Dr. Channing Petrak, a child abuse pediatrician who is currently based out of Peoria.

After Barnard inquired about the doctor’s qualifications, Public Defender Todd Nelson did the same. After several questions, Nelson objected to Dr. Petrak being accepted as a qualified witness. He said this was because she had never completed a fellowship in child abuse pediatrics and because she failed her first-ever board exam test to become certified. Judge Michael Atterberry overruled the objection.

Barnard first questioned the ins and outs of abusive head trauma. Dr. Petrak said because an infant’s brain, in this case, Airyana Hoffman, who was just under 3-months-old at the time of her death, is not fully developed, it is soft and gelatinous compared to an adult’s brain. She said if the head is being moved around or bounced around, the brain will not move with the head, thus crashing against the skull.

Barnard asked Dr. Petrak what the most common sign of abusive head trauma was, and Petrak responded that subdural hemorrhage and retinal hemorrhage was the most common finding. The lack of an explanation for any of the injuries is how Dr. Petrak said she came to her diagnosis of abusive head trauma.

“There were no symptoms that were reported,” Dr. Petrak said. “Runny nose, cough. There was nothing in her lab studies that would have indicated infection.”

“The imaging wasn’t indicative of stroke,” she said.

“What kind of bleeding or damage did you see inside the brain,” Barnard later asked.

Petrak said there were subdurals noted, arachnoids noted and significant swelling.

“What is the most common cause of death in relation to head injuries for those under 2-years-old,” Barnard later asked.

“Abusive head trauma,” Petrak responded.

The defense presents its case

After a longer than usual lunch recess, Public Defender Todd Nelson called Dr. Jane Turner to the witness stand. Dr. Turner is a forensic pathologist and also has a consulting business. She also worked for the city of St. Louis Medical Examiner’s Office and has also taught as a college professor.

After inquiries about her qualifications as a medical expert, Dr. Turner said she believed Airyana had died from infection rather than abusive head trauma. Dr. Turner said a test was done on Airyana to test her ability to clot blood, which she said found that Airyana couldn’t do. She said there was no testing for fungi or bacteria.

In reviewing microscopic slides, Dr. Turner said there were small blood clots in small blood vessels in different organs. In the brain, she said those blood clots had lamination, or lines of Zahn, indicating the blood clot came from a blood vessel. Dr. Turner said the lines correlated with autopsy photographs, those blood clots caused a stroke, which she said couldn’t be identified in an autopsy. She said the blood clot had been in existence before Jan. 20 and became critical on Jan. 20 when Airyana stopped breathing.

Later, Dr. Turner said there are natural causes for hemorrhages. “There was already evidence that she had increased intercranial pressure,” Turner said. Dr. Turner took pictures of the microscopic slides to prepare for her testimony on Thursday. Those images were published to the jury. Microscopic slides, Turner said, showed that Airyana’s lungs had evidence of infection.

Cross-examination continued

The court took a second afternoon recess around 4:30 p.m. as special prosecutor Jon Barnard’s cross-examination eclipsed the one-hour mark. After a sidebar conference between counsel and Judge Atterberry, Atterberry said Wednesday’s proceedings would last at least another hour.

“Doctor, when do you claim that occurred, that opinion that you gave of that medical exam,” Barnard asked

Barnard then inquired about how many times Dr. Turner has found the exact findings of this case, closed head trauma, manner of death homicide, in her own practice at her consulting business, Virchow Consulting, in St. Louis.

Dr. Turner said she has seen it at least once since she opened her business in 2007.

At the end of Barnard’s cross-examination, he inquired about how Turner gets paid.

Barnard said there was a similar case in the last few years where Turner came to the exact same conclusion for a client.

“You bill for that, don’t you?” Barnard asks.

Barnard said the bill for that case was roughly $20,000.

“Your meter is running right now, isn’t it?” Barnard said.

Tuner replied, “no.”

Barnard’s cross-examination lasted two hours. Nelson had no redirect.

The judge then dismissed the jury and addressed Wiley directly.

Wiley ultimately told Judge Atterberry he would not testify.

Nelson said he does not anticipate calling witnesses on Friday and Barnard does not anticipate calling rebuttle witnesses.

Jury instructions will be finalized at 8:30 a.m. and jury instructions will begin at 9 a.m.


Copyright 2023 WGEM. All rights reserved.