SHERIDAN — Because attorneys moved quickly through the questioning of witnesses in Robert Swett’s trial Judge John Fenn called an early recess Tuesday and Wednesday. One witness remained slated for the stand at 9 a.m. Thursday due to travel constraints.
Wednesday, day three of the aggravated child abuse trial, featured one final witness from the prosecution.
Dr. C. Rashaan Ford of Castle Rock Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Colorado in Denver took the stand for the entirety of the morning session.
Ford, an expert in child abuse cases and particularly abusive head trauma, shared the factors that contributed to his decision to deem the case abuse.
Prosecuting attorney Darci Phillips focused on eliminating possible factors that cause retinal hemorrhaging — one of the injuries Swett’s child sustained following an incident where Swett claims the child slipped from his arms while trying to rinse the child’s body of vomit.
Ford confirmed the story relayed to him from Swett, remaining consistent with other testimony given by medical professionals and social workers out of Sheridan and Denver.
Ford completed the patient consultation with his social work counterpart in Denver.
At the start of his consultation, Ford said he couldn’t rule out accidental head trauma, but remained concerned about the injuries and the story coinciding with it. The fact that the child sustained multi-layer retinal hemorrhaging in both eyes ruled out accidental head trauma for Ford. Ford said the child showed more extensive trauma than described by Swett’s story of what happened Jan. 12.
One aspect disputed was retinal hemorrhaging caused by turbulence from the plane ride from Sheridan to Denver. Ford said that wasn’t likely, “or I’d have some this morning.”
Following Ford’s medical evaluations, Phillips again focused on Ford’s observances of the defendant. Ford mentioned that Swett described his child’s vomiting episodes as something out of “The Exorcist.” He also said Swett told Ford the head injury wasn’t going to kill (the child). He described his demeanor as agitated and wanted the vomit issues addressed. Cross-examination by Erin Wardell brought up a published work by Ford that described that only 24 percent of head injuries are associated with abuse and that one cannot rely on retinal hemorrhaging alone to classify head trauma as coming from abuse.
The state rested while the defense brought Sheridan’s Debra Haar from Sheridan County Public Health to the stand in the afternoon session starting at 2 p.m.
Haar served as a lactation counselor for the mother of the child during pregnancy and was called back to assist the family after the child was hospitalized and diagnosed with failure to thrive due to feeding issues. Wardell focused on the stable weight gain of the child during Haar’s frequent visits at the end of September through the beginning of January. Haar said her suggestions of positioning the child upright during feedings and other suggestions to help with vomiting issues were utilized while she was there. She also said she helped the mother with scheduling feedings and setting reminders through alarms to help continue feedings throughout the night. It was discovered in cross-examination that Haar did not schedule any meetings with the family at night. Phillips also revealed that Swett was present for only 20 percent of Haar’s visits.
Wardell planned to bring one final witness to the stand at 9 a.m. Thursday, with plans to complete closing statements and begin jury deliberations by the afternoon session.