Battle of the Expert

A Forensic Pathologist Successfully Fights Criminal Charges Stemming From His Testimony in a Shaken Baby Case

District attorney Michael Dugan says his office has but one agenda: to hold accountable those it has probable cause to believe have violated the law.

But a controversial defense expert says Dugan’s office in Deschutes County, Ore., may have been pursuing another, less noble, agenda when it prosecuted him on charges of lying under oath.

He claims the effort, which followed a hard-fought loss, smacks of payback that may have been designed to put him out of business for good, if not behind bars.

The expert in question is Dr. John Plunkett, a 58-year-old forensic pathologist from Hastings, Minn., who has become a leading critic of shaken baby syndrome and a thorn in the side of child abuse prosecutors.

It’s not hard to see why. Plunkett is a compelling witness who has testified in more than 100 shaken baby cases and has consulted in about 400 others. He is also the author of a widely cited 2001 scientific article on short-distance falls that called into question the whole theory behind shaken baby syndrome.

Plunkett was tried—and acquitted—earlier this year in Deschutes County on two counts of false swearing stemming from his testimony at the 2001 trial of a licensed day care worker accused of shaking to death a 14-month-old boy in her care. The caretaker had also been acquitted.

Details here from the ABA Journal.