Child abuse expert says defendant’s story doesn’t add up
By Ruth Ann Krause Post-Tribune correspondent September 27, 2012 5:12PM
Levi Hiatt. | Provided Photo~Sun-Times Media ptmet
Updated: October 29, 2012 6:55AM
A child abuse specialist testifying in the murder trial of a Hobart man said the injuries his ex-girlfriend’s 3-year-old son received were deliberately inflicted and not accidental.
“The child had to have suffered some sort of trauma to his head,” said Dr. Kelley Staley of Comer Watkins V, a 3-year-old Griffith boy who arrived at University of Chicago Comer Children’s Hospital on a ventilator and barely clinging to life on April 12, 2010.
The testimony came during the fourth day of trial for Levi Edward Hiatt, 28, who is facing murder and neglect of a dependent charges in Comer’s death.
Staley, who is board-certified in child abuse pediatrics and was associate medical director of child abuse pediatrics at the hospital, said the toddler suffered direct trauma to his genitals, which were extremely red and swollen.
Responding to questions from deputy prosecutor Reginald Marcus, Staley said Comer had a quarter-size bruise on his pubic area, as well as bruises along his spine that suggested he had been forcefully held and possibly thrown against something. The layers of bleeding within his retinas and bleeding on both sides of the brain suggested he was shaken violently and possibly slammed forcefully against something, Staley said.
In an interview with police, Hiatt said he jumped on the bed and accidentally landed with his knee in Comer’s groin, then took the screaming child into the bathroom to look at the injury. When Comer wouldn’t pull down his pants, Hiatt told police he grabbed the boy’s ankles and pulled his legs forward, causing the boy’s head to fly back and strike the bathtub and floor.
Staley said based on tests at the hospital, there was no evidence the boy struck the back of his head.
Staley said the child also had a large bruise on his calf, which she said could have been caused by a “kick or stomp” and most likely was not from what Hiatt described.
During cross-examination by defense attorney Larry Rogers, Staley said Hiatt’s explanation to police investigators for the groin injury was unlikely in light of the additional bruise in the pubic area.
Staley also discounted Rogers’ suggestion that Comer suffered the head injuries in a fall while playing at a baby shower on April 11, 2010. A note in the intensive care admission records indicates a “minor head injury” reported by Comer’s maternal grandmother with “no complications.” Staley said had the injury been serious, the child could have had trouble walking, talking, eating or vomiting.
Comer’s mother, Stephanie Smith, testified earlier that Comer told her after the baby shower that his head hurt. Hiatt told police the child wasn’t very hungry that evening after Smith left for work.
Testimony is scheduled to resume Friday before Porter Superior Court Senior Judge Thomas Webber, who is hearing the case in Lake Superior Court.