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March 5, 2014

Beating worst in 20 years, doc says

Miff mom accused of abusing infant, faces murder charge

MIFFLINBURG — A 6-week-old Mifflinburg boy “got lucky” and survived physical abuse so severe, a physician testified Tuesday, the injuries are among the worst he’s seen in 20 years of practice.

“Six-week-old babies aren’t supposed to have bruises,” and this infant had about 25, said Dr. Paul Bellino, an in-patient pediatrician at Janet Weis Children’s Hospital and Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, where he is one of two child-abuse evaluators.

Bellino testified at the nearly three-hour preliminary hearing of Jasmine Bearden, 20, of Mifflinburg, accused of abusing of the infant and leaving him with life-threatening injuries.

Three felony charges of criminal attempted homicide, aggravated assault and endangering the welfare of a child were held for court following the hearing before District Judge Jeffrey Mensch.

Jasmine Bearden was charged in January for the incident alleged to have happened Oct. 9, 2013.

Bellino was among four who testified.

Seated with her attorney, Mark Lemon, of Mifflinburg, Bearden cried and held her head in her hands as the physician described the severity of the baby’s injuries.

Bellino said he examined the infant at the pediatric intensive care unit Oct. 11 after the trauma team suspected abuse. Under questioning from Jeffrey Crossland, Union County assistant district attorney, Bellino said a CAT scan revealed several areas of bleeding and swelling around the infant’s brain. The reading of blood on the scan indicated the injury “was fairly recent,” possibly within 72 hours, the doctor said.

The baby was having repeated seizures, Bellino said, and also had an enlarged, bruised scrotum from blood hemorrhaging from his liver into his abdominal cavity.

Baby’s liver “cracked”

An ultrasound revealed the infant’s liver had been “cracked,” or broken, the most severe instance Bellino said he’s seen in 20 years of practice, noting the force required to inflict such an injury usually is seen in high-speed crashes. The baby also had several broken ribs consistent with an “encircling injury,” in which an adult’s hands squeeze an infant so tightly that the ribs break. X-rays revealed the broken ribs also were recent, he said.

“In this case, it’s clear evidence of physical abuse, direct physical trauma, blunt force,” Bellino said, adding there was “no doubt” in his mind what caused the injuries but could not say how the injuries happened.

“Those events could have killed this child,” Bellino said.

When Crossland asked why the infant survived, Bellino said, “He got lucky. Every year, two to three babies like this die” at the pediatric emergency room, he said. “He’s very fortunate.”

Also testifying were Cindy Graham, the infant’s paternal grandmother; Ricky Dehart Jr., the infant’s father, and Mifflinburg police Chief Douglas Bickhart, the investigating officer.

Graham said she noticed the bruises on the baby and his darkened, enlarged scrotum when she changed his diaper the night of Oct. 9, marks that were not there the night before. She said she told Dehart and Bearden to take the baby to the emergency room, or she would.

During his testimony, Bellino said the infant had “such significant injuries, most lay individuals would recognize something significantly wrong with the baby.”

Dehart testified that Bearden left to take the infant to the emergency room, but returned about 20 minutes later, saying she wouldn’t be told how to raise her baby. Dehart said he himself had never harmed the baby and never witnessed Bearden doing so, either.

Dehart was brought in to testify from Snyder County Prison, where he is incarcerated on a parole violation.

Bickhart testified Union County Children & Youth contacted him about the case. He brought in Bearden, Dehart and Graham for questioning Oct. 14. During her interview, Bearden became angry and began crying and wanted to leave, Bickhart said.

Bickhart escorted Bearden to the Mifflinburg police station lobby, where Dehart and Graham were, and where she allegedly told Dehart “We need to leave. We don’t need to talk to the police. They can’t prove anything.”

Graham declined comment after the hearing, as did Lemon and Bearden’s family, who were in court Tuesday.

Mensch set $100,000 bail for Bearden, who has been in jail since her arrest. Her formal arraignment is scheduled for Union County Court on May 5.

 

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