Two medical examiners offered opposing views Tuesday during the murder trial of Brent Houdeshell, an Arlington man accused of killing 2-year-old Breydon Ferrell in March 2016.
The only witness called by the defense, Dr. Werner Spitz, a forensic pathologist and professor of pathology at Wayne State University in Detroit, said in his professional opinion, Breydon died of brain swelling caused by falling out of his crib and hitting his head on a carpet-covered concrete floor.
“This child climbed out of his crib and fell, a complicated fall, but one fall,” Spitz said.
Houdeshell is accused of killing Breydon, the son of Houdeshell’s former fiancee, on March 31, 2016, at a Findlay apartment. Houdeshell, 29, was watching Breydon and called 911 at about 9 p.m. that night. Police said Houdeshell told them the child had fallen out of his crib.
Spitz, who said he is 91, has testified before Congress concerning the deaths of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy.
Spitz said in forming his opinion in this case, he recreated the fall and reviewed documents from the boy’s autopsy and from Findlay police. Using a doll, he gave jurors in Hancock County Common Pleas Court a demonstration of his ideas about the fall.
Spitz said he believes Breydon tried to get out of the crib, got his foot caught under the mattress, then fell out of the crib, likely hitting a table and television near the crib as he fell, then fracturing his skull on the floor. The floor was concrete under a thin carpet and a pad.
Spitz said the child had a lucid interval after the fall, where he likely ate ice cream, as indicated by a brown, milky-like substance found in the child’s stomach during the autopsy. Houdeshell has told police he gave Breydon ice cream after the fall.
“This is not an abused child. I cannot see an abused child,” Spitz said. He said the injuries on an abused child are inconsistent with those found on Breydon.
Spitz said marks found on the face and arms of the child were caused by the fall, and injuries to the child’s chest would likely have been from CPR, administered after Houdeshell called 911.
In cross-examination, Hancock County Assistant Prosecutor Colleen Limerick asked Spitz if he had taken into account a thin pad between the carpet and the cement. Spitz said no one told him there was a pad.
Limerick asked Spitz if a fracture of the skull could be caused by someone slamming Breydon’s head into the carpet. Spitz it was possible, but he said injuries around the inside of the skull would not also have appeared.
Limerick asked Spitz if he knew the doll he used in the courtroom demonstration was shorter and heavier than Breydon’s measurements at his autopsy. Spitz said he did not know.
Limerick also pointed out that during the doll demonstration Spitz put on for the jury, the doll’s right foot was caught in between the crib slats. Limerick said Breydon’s left leg was fractured, as shown during the autopsy.
Another forensic pathologist was called Tuesday by the prosecution as a rebuttal witness, and disagreed with Spitz’s conclusions.
Dr. Jamie Downs, a medical examiner, forensic pathologist and medical legal consultant, has testified before Congress and in military trials in the Air Force and the Army. He specializes in child abuse cases.
Breydon’s “multiple blunt force injuries were due to child abuse,” Downs said. “Breydon died as a result of multiple blunt force injuries.”
Downs said at least eight injuries on the child’s face and on the inside of the skull could not have occurred in just one fall, even a fall when someone hits multiple things on the way down. Downs said even if the child fell and hit multiple objects, as Spitz described, there would have been no more than four bruises.
Downs insisted the injury on the back of the boy’s head could not have been caused by a simple fall, because the fracture was at the base of the skull near the neck in a spot that is recessed.
Downs said there would not have been a lucid interval after the fall, because the blow to the head would have caused the boy to lose consciousness.
Downs suggested that Breydon had been picked up and slammed into the carpet.
“You can’t do what was done to Breydon in a fall scenario,” Downs said.
He said injuries that Breydon had on his arms were consistent with grab marks, and internal injuries in his lungs and liver were not consistent with CPR.
Downs also said the mattress on the crib would have been too light to trap Breydon’s foot.
Downs said he did not believe the milky white substance found in the boy’s stomach was ice cream, and if it was, it did not indicate Breydon ate ice cream at a specific time.
Houdeshell’s trial began Jan. 8 and is now in its second week.
Houdeshell is accused of murder, an unclassified felony; endangering children, a second-degree felony; and tampering with evidence, a third-degree felony.
The trial is scheduled to resume at 9 a.m. Wednesday with Judge Reginald Routson presiding. The prosecution rested its case Tuesday. The defense has not indicated it will call any more witnesses, so closing arguments are expected Wednesday.
- The Docket
- Member Service