Assistant District Attorney Holly E. Sloma on Monday called the death of nearly 5-month-old Michael Clark Jr. "textbook shaken impact syndrome."
But defense attorney Angelo Musitano argued, "There is no such thing as shaken baby or sudden impact death."
Thus the stage was set for a lengthy trial to determine whether Michael Clark Sr. of Wheatfield killed his infant son in 2002.
A schedule of witnesses, including more than a dozen doctors, runs through Nov. 24, and District Attorney Matthew J. Murphy III said he wouldn't be surprised if the case lasts longer than that.
State Supreme Court Justice Ralph A. Boniello III will decide whether Clark, 26, of St.Joseph Road, is guilty of second-degree murder. Clark's court-appointed attorneys requested a nonjury trial because of the complicated nature of the evidence.
"It's going to be a battle of the experts," co-defense counsel Alfonso M. Bax said.
There were no eyewitnesses to what prosecutors insist was an assault by Clark on his son, either by shaking the baby or hitting him in the head.
The father and son were home alone when the alleged incident occurred Sept. 24, 2002, in the apartment on Plaza Drive in Wheatfield that Clark shared with his girlfriend, Rachel McNally, and their daughter, who was 2 1/2 years old at the time. Michael Jr. died the next day in Women and Children's Hospital, Buffalo.
Doctors who examined the baby in Mount St. Mary's and Women and Children's hospitals concluded external trauma caused the infant's brain to shut down.
"His brain was destroyed," Sloma told Boniello in her opening statement. She said an autopsy found five bruises on the baby's eye, cheek and jaw, along with hemorrhages in the brain, both eyes and the cervical spine.
Sloma said, "There was barely a single area of Mikey's brain that was left unaffected." She said three CT scans taken before the baby was removed from life support showed brain bleeding and swelling; even the child's soft spot had become firm.
But Musitano said the case really began in October 2001, when a pregnant McNally allegedly refused her doctor's advice to get a blood test. "The mother didn't receive any prenatal care," Musitano said.
He said the child was born premature, after 33 weeks and six days of gestation, with an enlarged heart and a heart murmur. A shunt was surgically implanted shortly after Michael Jr. was born April 28, 2002. Musitano said the baby had more heart treatment in August 2002.
"Prior to the (CT scan) being performed, there were no visible external injuries," Musitano told the judge. "There is no disputing this child had a condition of the heart which at times made him suffer from lack of oxygen to the blood."
Besides all the doctors who treated Michael Jr. at the two local hospitals, prosecutors have scheduled Dr. Janice Ophoven, a Minnesota specialist in shaken baby syndrome, to testify on its effects.
But the defense will offer Dr. John Plunkett of Minnesota and Dr. Joseph Scheller of Washington, D.C., to testify it doesn't exist.
"Not one of them will be able to cite a study that scientifically proves shaking a baby causes these injuries," Musitano said. He said his experts will conduct a courtroom demonstration to try to prove that, if Boniello allows it.