Judge Rebukes Prosecution In Child Abuse Case
Aug. 22, 1985
VISTA, Calif. (AP) _ A woman prosecuted on child abuse charges in the death of her young son deserves an apology from those who took her to court, the judge said after the woman was acquitted.
''You were the victim of too many people who wanted to cover their own hides,'' Superior Court Judge Lawrence Kapiloff told 27-year-old Carol Phinney after the verdict of acquittal Tuesday.
''I think the bureacracy of this state owes this lady a collective apology,'' the judge said. ''I think this case cries out for civil action.''
Phinney was charged with murder and child abuse after her only child, Travis, died at Children's Hospital in San Diego last October, a month after he was found unconscious in the bathtub of her Oceanside apartment.
The county coroner concluded that Travis' death was not an accident and that the boy had suffered a blow to the head, but a murder allegation was dismissed for lack of evidence after a preliminary hearing in June.
The defense attorney already has filed a $1 million claim against San Diego County on behalf of his client, contending an erroneous autopsy report led to criminal charges being filed.
Steve Casey, a spokesman for the San Diego County district attorney, said he was surprised by Kapiloff's remarks.
''It's a rather strange circumstance when such an opinion is expressed from the bench,'' he said. ''We took the case to trial because we believed it was necessary to do that. Our interest was solely and exclusively in fulfilling our prosecutorial responsibility. Any suggestion by any person to the contrary is unfortunate.''
Phinney, who could have been sentenced to six years in prison if convicted, said she felt ''like a little girl all alone against the whole bureacracy,'' and at one point committed herself to a mental institution for three weeks.
Her parents, she said, also sought psychological counseling during the case and mortgaged their home to raise cash for her legal defense.
Prosecutor William Draper had argued that Phinney should be held accountable for the 21/2 -year-old child's death because she had left him unattended for about 10 minutes.
Dr. Richard Lindenberg, a retired neuro-pathologist who testified as a defense witness, disputed the coroner's report, saying it did not take into account the child's past history of seizures. Lindenberg said he believed the boy had a seizure and fell face down into three inches of water. He said the trauma on the boy's head came from a bolt physicians injected into his head to measure pressure inside the skull.