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Father testifies at trial

March 22, 2000|By MARLO BARNHART

A day after medical testimony that Thomas Caleb Smith suffered massive brain damage within minutes or two or three hours before he stopped breathing on June 5, his father testified Wednesday he was the only one who cared for the infant during the preceding 11 hours.

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Under questioning by Washington County State's Attorney Kenneth Long, Charles Herbert Smith, 38, denied hitting, squeezing or shaking his son that night or ever.

"I love my son," he said as he concluded his testimony on the second day of his Washington County Circuit Court trial on charges of first- and second-degree assault, child abuse and reckless endangerment.

A jury of six men and six women are to begin deliberations today after jury instructions and final arguments from the prosecution and from defense attorney, Gregory Bannon.

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Smith testified Wednesday that he told a Hagerstown City Police detective he got angry and frustrated with his then seven-week-old son and might have been a little rough with him at times.

"I also told Detective (Steve) Hoover that Thomas was bopping himself in the face and chin," Smith testified.

Testimony and photographs introduced Tuesday showed bruises on the child's face, chin, chest, shoulder and legs.

Family members, including the child's mother, Justina Smith, testified Wednesday that they saw no bruises on the infant until two or three days before June 5.

They also described difficulty feeding the baby, episodes during which his arms and legs become rigid and times when he held his breath until his face turned red in the early weeks of his life.

A pediatric intensive care specialist testified Tuesday that during the first seven weeks of his life, Thomas Caleb Smith suffered 17 fractured ribs, broken legs and pelvic bones and nearly a dozen bruises.

Dr. Robert Englander also testified that retinal hemorrhaging in his eyes and severe brain damage would have occurred either minutes or just a few hours after shaking or strangulation had affected the baby's breathing on June 5.

Englander first saw the infant June 7 at the University of Maryland Hospital. He said rib fractures like Thomas' are caused when a baby is squeezed very hard.

"Fractured femurs (thigh bones) occur with rough pulling," Englander said.

"And brain injury like Thomas' is shaken baby syndrome or strangulation ... I can't say which or if both," Englander said Tuesday.

The child survived his injuries but is developmentally delayed, according to testimony. He will be 1 year old on April 16 and is in the care of his maternal grandmother.

Charles Smith has been jailed since his arrest in late June.

Conviction on a first-degree assault charge can carry a penalty of 25 years. A conviction on a second-degree assault charge has a maximum penalty of 10 years, a child abuse conviction has a maximum penalty of 15 years and reckless endangerment, five years.

The jury could find the defendant innocent of all charges or convict on one or more charges.

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