After Nanny's Charges Dropped, Debate Over Shaken Baby Syndrome Goes On

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Aisling Brady McCarthy leaves court proceedings at Middlesex Superior Court in Woburn in July. (Keith Bedford/The Boston Globe/Pool)
Aisling Brady McCarthy leaves court proceedings at Middlesex Superior Court in Woburn in July. (Keith Bedford/The Boston Globe/Pool)

The former Cambridge nanny who had been charged with murder until this week is back in her native Ireland.

Aisling Brady McCarthy says she is glad to be home, and blames police and prosecutors for the case against her, telling The Boston Herald they should "be ashamed of themselves."

The case was dropped on Monday, after a medical examiner changed
the finding on the cause of death of the 1-year-old in McCarthy's care.

While the case is now closed, the debate over what's called shaken baby syndrome goes on.

Although no longer facing criminal charges, 36-year-old Brady McCarthy found herself back in government custody Tuesday afternoon. She surrendered herself to immigration authorities by a prearranged agreement, after officials agreed to expedite her deportation.

Immigration officials discovered Brady McCarthy was living in the U.S. illegally after her 2013 arrest on first-degree murder charges for the death of Rehma Sabir, a Cambridge infant in the nanny's care. On Monday, prosecutors dropped those charges after the state medical examiner said she could no longer conclude the child's death was a homicide.

"What should have happened in this case is a complete, full medical investigation, and that didn't happen," said Brady McCarthy's defense attorney, Melinda Thompson. "That happened as a result of 10 doctors from across the country and the world, who volunteered on behalf of Ms. McCarthy to investigate this case, and that investigation should have been done before she was arrested."

"Medical examiners are medical doctors and scientific professionals who work to determine the cause and manner of death based on the best available information," said Felix Browne, spokesman for the Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety, which oversees the state medical examiner's office. "When new and relevant information becomes available, they factor that in to their analysis and, in rare cases, that new information changes their determination."

Browne says this is only the second time since 2006 that the state medical examiner has amended the manner of death on an autopsy. The other time was just last year and it also involved the death of a child — and it also caused murder charges to be dropped.

The two cases also involved the same child abuse specialist: Dr. Alice Newton, who is now at Massachusetts General Hospital. She declined to comment for this story.

Prosecutors say the new information that came forward in Brady McCarthy's case includes the child's pediatric records and the possibility that the 1-year-old may have had a rare bleeding disorder that could have caused her to bruise more easily.

But many doctors say shaken baby syndrome -- or abusive head trauma, as it's often called -- is a clear medical diagnosis that's not easy to mistake.

"Sadly this is a reality of current life in medicine, and one has to be skeptical in seeing a sudden turn in a case like this," said Dr. Eli Newberger, a pediatrician.

Newberger suggests there may be an ulterior motive for some doctors.

"The first thing that occurred to me was, is this pathologist grooming himself or herself for the lucrative defense business across the country?" he said.

Newberger testified for the state in a 1997 case in Massachusetts, in which a nanny from overseas — Louise Woodward — was charged with killing a child, and eventually released.

Newberger says the current science has made abuse even easier to spot.

But Lisa Kavanaugh, director of the Innocence Project at the state's public defender program, says McCarthy's case has shown that the causes of abusive head trauma are not always clear.

"There are many instances where the presence of a set of injuries has been attributed to an intentional act and there is far more ambiguity than that," Kavanaugh said. "And I think the changes in the medical examiner's opinion are a reflection of that."

What might be clearer is that many people in Brady McCarthy's native Ireland are eager for her to return home.

Julianne Sheridan is News Editor at Northern Sound Radio in Brady McCarthy's home county

"A lot of people are grateful that after re-review and how it has ulitmately come to the right decision for Aisling," said Julianne Sheridan, news editor at Northern Sound Radio in Brady McCarthy's home county. "They've always maintained her innocence. I suppose a lot of people are asking is, will Aisling, I suppose, take a case against somebody being held in prison for two years on a charge that she didn't commit?"

It's not known if Brady McCarthy will pursue a lawsuit -- where the medical debate over abusive head trauma would continue.


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Deborah Becker Host/Reporter
Deborah Becker is a senior correspondent and host at WBUR. Her reporting focuses on mental health, criminal justice and education.



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