GRANGEVILLE — Medical experts disagreed sharply Thursday whether the life-threatening injuries to a 16-month-old girl in November 2019 were the result of child abuse or a preexisting undiagnosed bleeding disorder.
Michael Sokoloff, a pediatric critical care physician and child abuse consultant for Providence Sacred Heart Hospital in Spokane, examined the child when she was brought by Life Flight helicopter to the hospital. He was unequivocal in his assessment of her condition.
“I can tell you with certainty that (the child) was abused,” Sokoloff testified Thursday. “This was a life-threatening bleed — very critical.”
If not for the quick work of the emergency medical technicians who first responded to the incident Nov. 30 and the work of the health care team at Syringa General Hospital and getting her to Spokane immediately, Sokoloff said, “this could have been a lot worse.”
The doctor testified on the third day of a jury trial for Forrest J. Pilant, who is charged with felony injury to a child and aggravated battery in connection with the incident. Pilant, 21, has pleaded innocent to the charges. A jury of six women and eight men is expected to begin deliberations on the verdict later today.
Marvin Petruszka, who is a physician and forensic pathologist in Southern California, testified via Zoom on behalf of Pilant’s defense. Petruszka said he examined numerous reports sent to him by Pilant’s attorney, Idaho County Public Defender John A. Wiltse, and did not believe the girl’s injuries conclusively pointed to child abuse.
Petruszka said the attending physicians did not fully explore the possibility that the child had a liver disorder that caused her to bleed easily. She also did not have other indications of child abuse, such as bone fractures. And the bleeding in the brain, which Sokoloff said likely was caused by severe shaking of the child, may have been related to a blood coagulation deficiency, Petruszka said.
“I do not believe that this is a significant case of child abuse,” Petruszka said.
In cross-examining of Sokoloff, Wiltse focused on the possible timeline of when the child’s injuries occurred.
Was it possible, Wiltse asked, that the extensive bruising on the child’s head, neck and torso could have been caused over a period of a couple of days, rather than within minutes or hours, as the prosecution has claimed.
Possible, Sokoloff said, but not likely.
“We look at bruising as just bruising,” Sokoloff said. “I can’t tell you how old these bruises are.”
But when questioned by Idaho County Prosecutor Kirk A. MacGregor about whether the girl’s bruises and internal injuries could have been caused by a fall in the bathtub, as Pilant has claimed, Sokoloff replied: “That’s an implausible explanation. ... As we accumulate more bruises (that explanation) becomes even less plausible.”
When MacGregor cross-examined Pilant’s witness, Petruszka, the prosecutor started off by asking how much the doctor was being paid for his testimony.
Petruszka said he has already been paid a $5,000 retainer fee to review the records of the case. And he has accumulated 15 more hours of work at the rate of $650 an hour.
MacGregor then asked whether Petruszka had talked to any of the doctors who attended the child, the investigating officer, the EMTs or the child’s mother.
Petruszka said he had not.
But when MacGregor read a detailed list of the girl’s injuries and asked Petruszka whether he wanted to change his mind that the case was indeed child abuse, the doctor refused.
“I don’t believe there is child abuse in this case,” Petruszka said. “All these bruises could be related to a bleeding disorder.”
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