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State v. McDuffie

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

September 26, 2017


          Assigned on Briefs September 13, 2017

         Appeal from the Circuit Court for Montgomery County No. 41300827 John H. Gasaway III, Judge, Jill Bartee Ayers, Judge

         The Defendant, Christian Devon McDuffie, was found guilty by a Montgomery County Circuit Court jury of three counts of aggravated child abuse, a Class A felony. See T.C.A. § 39-15-402 (2014) (amended 2016). The trial court sentenced the Defendant to concurrent terms of fifteen years for each conviction. On appeal, the Defendant contends that the evidence is insufficient to support his convictions. We affirm the judgments of the trial court.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgments of the Circuit Court Affirmed

          Gregory D. Smith (on appeal) and Wayne Clemmons (at trial), Clarksville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Christian Devon McDuffie.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Leslie E. Price, Senior Counsel; John W. Carney, District Attorney General; and Kimberly Lund, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

          Robert H. Montgomery, Jr., J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which John Everett Williams and Robert L. Holloway, Jr., JJ., joined.



         In this case, the Defendant was indicted for the aggravated child abuse of his two-month-old son after bone fractures to his ribs and humerus were discovered in June 2013. At the trial, Dr. Christina Cruz, an expert in pediatric medicine, testified that on June 21, she treated the victim for the first time at his two-month well visit. Dr. Cruz said that the victim's parents were present and that the Defendant reported the victim had not moved his arms in the previous two days. Dr. Cruz noted that the victim was fussy and had a high-pitch cry that was indicative of pain and observed that the victim was not moving his arms and legs like a healthy two-month-old infant. Dr. Cruz said that x-rays were taken, that she conferred with a radiologist, that the victim had multiple bone fractures, and that the victim was taken to Vanderbilt Children's Hospital.

         Clarksville Police Detective Candace Rundle testified that she responded to the hospital, that she questioned the Defendant about the victim's bone fractures, and that the Defendant had no explanation for the injuries. Dr. Cruz said that she later spoke to the Defendant at the police station and that the Defendant still did not know how the injuries occurred. She said the Defendant mentioned that he slept on a couch and a bed with the victim and that he could have rolled over on the victim but was unsure. She said the Defendant also stated it was possible he injured the victim when placing the victim in a car seat.

         Detective Rundle testified that the Defendant and Jessica McDowell, the Defendant's wife, were the victim's only caregivers. Detective Rundle said that she went to the family home on the same day she responded to the hospital. Photographs of the home were received as exhibits, reflecting the outside of the home and a bassinette beside the Defendant and his wife's bed.

         Dr. Verna Brown, an expert in child abuse pediatrics, testified that on July 8, 2013, she treated the victim after his initial treatment on June 21. She noted that the victim's bone fractures had multiple stages of healing. She said that a social worker, the victim's parents, and the victim's foster mother were present. Dr. Brown had the victim's laboratory and skeletal survey results from June 21 but ordered a follow-up skeletal survey to ensure the first survey captured all of the fractures. She said new bone fractures did not show well on an x-ray, especially rib and limb fractures.

         Dr. Brown testified that the laboratory tests did not indicate any genetic disorders and that the Defendant stated that he had held the victim's chest and arms too tight. She s aid that the skeletal surveys showed "nine different fractures, eight of them were of the ribs and [one] of them [was] of the left humerus." She said that the victim had fractures to the fifth, sixth, and seventh left ribs, that the fractures to the fifth and sixth ribs were acute and visible on the initial survey, and that the fracture to the seventh rib "was seen later on." She said that the victim had fractures to the right fifth and sixth ribs, which were visible on the initial survey, and that the follow-up survey showed fractures to the right second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth ribs.

         Dr. Brown testified that infant bones began healing within seven to fourteen days and that she determined that some of the fractures had occurred as recently as within the last seven days. She said that none of the fractures were expected of a two-month-old infant, that she did not know the amount of force used to cause the fractures, and that, based upon the literature, children's ribs were difficult to break because children's bones were pliable. She said that the victim's fractures were not self-inflicted or the result of "normal play" and that the fractures were caused by blunt force trauma to the chest or "any" type of squeezing mechanism. She concluded that the fractures to the fifth, sixth, and seventh left ribs were non-accidental. Her conclusions was based upon the victim's lack of medical issues, no reported "accidental mechanism, " and the victim's having healthy bones, but for the fractures. Relative to the right rib fractures, she concluded that the fifth and sixth ribs were older fractures because they were healing. She said that no medical explanation existed for easily broken bones and that the right rib fractures were "inflicted injury."

         Dr. Brown testified that the victim's eight rib fractures, only some of which were healing, indicated more than one trauma. She noted that the victim's humerus, or upper arm, fracture was healing, indicating the injury occurred "on another occasion." She was unable to determine whether the rib and humerus fractures occurred in a single incident or occurred separately. She determined that at least two stages of healing were visible. She stated that broken bones in infants caused pain, which diminished as bones healed. She said it could be difficult to determine from an external examination if an infant had broken or fractured bones because an infant might not present with swelling or bruising. She stated that the humerus fracture was not a common injury for a two-month-old infant because of the immobility of an infant who could not crawl, walk, or jump, and she determined that the fracture was non-accidental.

         Dr. Brown testified that a fracture could occur if the victim had been grabbed forcefully from his car seat while his arm was trapped in the car seat strap. She agreed the victim's arm fracture could have been caused by someone leaning over the victim if the victim's arm was forcefully moved above the victim's head while being held tight. She stated that the victim's rib fractures could have resulted if the victim were picked up and squeezed by his torso, causing the victim's cry to change and the victim to cough upon being released. She said the victim's injuries were consistent with the victim's being "snatched" out of his crib by his torso or left arm. She said that the victim's bones were generally healthy and that children who had genetic disorders causing brittle bones did not have healthy bones but rather "ghostly" ...

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