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Parents of Shaken Baby Seek Custody

May 26, 1999

MEDIA, Pa. (AP) _ Child welfare officials are seeking to gain custody of a 20-month-old comatose boy so he can be removed from life support and allow to die.

The boy’s father is accused of shaking him so violently that he is blind, deaf and unable to swallow on his own. Doctors say Shirron Lewis has no chance of recovering.

The child’s parents are fighting to keep him alive, citing religious reasons. If the boy dies, prosecutors said the father, Ronald Lewis, is likely to be charged with first-degree murder. Lewis already has been charged with attempted murder.

Legal experts say it is only the second such case in the country. A hearing on a similar case in Nebraska is scheduled for Thursday.

Social workers and medical experts testified Wednesday about Shirron’s extensive injuries during a hearing to determine whether the county could take custody from the parents.

Judge Joseph F. Battle said Wednesday he would take the custody issue under advisement.

Battle on Tuesday denied a petition from court-appointed child advocate Barbara Scarlata that would have taken the boy off life support. The judge said the county’s Children and Youth Service must be granted custody first before the issue of life support can be discussed.

Ms. Scarlata, who also works for the Children and Youth Service, said Wednesday that she planned to press ahead for Shirron to be removed from life support.

Six people, including hospital workers and social workers, testified at Wednesday’s closed hearing, and Shirron’s physicians testified via videotape, said court spokesman Tom Musi.

The content of the testimony was not released and attorneys and county officials involved refused comment.

Shirron, who was born premature, arrived at the hospital in March 1998. Prosecutors said the baby was in the care of a baby-sitter but contend Lewis caused the injuries.

Lewis, 43, said he didn’t cause the injuries and doesn’t know how they happened, defense attorney Wayne Punshon said. Lewis, who attended Wednesday’s hearing, is being held at Delaware County prison awaiting a hearing on his criminal charges Tuesday.

Shirron’s mother, Jackie Allen, 32, attended Wednesday hearing, but made no comment.

Lewis and Ms. Allen said they believe only God can end a person’s life and do not want a court to decide what is best for their child. The couple are engaged and lived together at the time of the incident.

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