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Baumer acquitted of child abuse
Published: Saturday, October 16, 2010

By Jameson Cook, Macomb Daily Staff Writer
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A 34-year-old woman who already served four years in prison for child abuse was found not guilty of the same charge Friday by a Macomb County jury.

Julie Baumer, facing her second trial on the allegations, was acquitted of first-degree child abuse after her pro bono advocates mounted a medical defense that said injuries to infant Benjamin Zentz were naturally caused.

"This actually was a form of childhood stroke … that mimics shaken baby syndrome," said lead defense attorney Carl Marlinga.

"I'm very happy," Baumer said shortly after the verdict in Macomb County Circuit Court in Mount Clemens. "The nightmare I've been living the last eight years is finally over. … I want to get my life back together. I've got a lot to rebuild after 7 1/2 years."

Benjamin, 7, who is brain damaged and blind, has the capacity of a child about 18 months old and requires constant care.

Phillip and Debi Zentz of Shelby Township, the adopted parents of Benjamin, said they were disappointed with the verdict because they still believe Benjamin was abused. They support the abuse findings of Benjamin's treating physician, Dr. Steven Ham of Children's Hospital of Michigan in Detroit.

"The verdict does not change our belief," they said in a written statement. "We believe in the diagnosis made by Dr. Ham at the time of Ben's injuries."

The jury deliberated about six hours over two days following a more than three-week trial that featured a mountain of medical evidence. Six doctors for the defense and three doctors for the prosecution testified about their interpretations of images of Benjamin's head and personal observation by his treating doctors. Two treating physicians testified for the prosecution.

Assistant Macomb prosecutor Richard Goodman argued that Baumer inflicted the injuries while Benjamin was under her care in October 2003.

The case was circumstantial. Baumer brought him to Mount Clemens General Hospital (at the time) because he was listless, and Benjamin was soon transferred to Children's Hospital. He suffered brain and retinal bleeding, and a skull fracture.

Baumer was convicted of first-degree child abuse by a jury in 2005 and sentenced by Judge James Biernat to 10 years in prison.

But new medical opinion arose that venous sinus thrombosis could cause the same bleeding symptoms as shaken baby syndrome. Marlinga also argued that Benjamin's skull fracture had been suffered at another time, possibly during birth.

Ave Marie Law School, which has moved from Michigan to Florida, initially took on Baumer's case, and attorneys Charles Lugosi and Marlinga joined in. The Innocence Clinic at University of Michigan took on the case, providing attorneys Bridget McCormack, David Moran and students.

The group won a new trial based on new medical opinion.

The jury in the second trial was not told about the prior conviction.

Jury forewoman Sera Miller, 34, an investigator with the Social Security Administration, cited a lack of evidence of wrongdoing by Baumer.

"We could not tie Julie Baumer to being responsible for those injuries to that child," Miller said. "There was absolute reasonable doubt. It (the injury) could have been caused by abuse or it could have been caused by a natural disease process."

"We concluded we didn't know. There was not enough evidence to make an actual decision," added juror Jan Phannes of Sterling Heights.

Miller noted the difficulty of wading through voluminous medical testimony.

"We had two sets of experts with two different opinions. Who do you believe?" Miller said. "We had to set that aside and say, 'Is Julie response for this?' And the answer is 'no.'"

Baumer thanked several of the jurors in the hallway outside the courtroom.

Baumer, who was released with restrictions nearly a year ago, said she did not know her immediate career plans. She had been living with a family member.

She said she cares for Benjamin and praised the Zentzes.

"I love him and I always will," she said. "I appreciate the Zentz family for opening their hearts and home to him."

She said she hopes someday to be able to visit Benjamin.

"Perhaps a bridge can be formed between the two families," she said.

The Zentzes in their statement said: "We wish no ill will on Ms. Baumer and her family and look forward to returning to our normal family with our sweet Ben."

Marlinga said the case's outcome could have national ramifications. As far as he knows, it's the first case in which VST was shown to mimic shaken baby syndrome. He said medical experts and criminal defense attorneys should be aware of the possible misdiagnoses. He said the opinion is based on the reading of "radiology and CT scans and MRIs."

"It's not a phony defense," he said. "You can't make it up."

But he added, "If you're not looking for it, you won't see it."

The case also demonstrates the power of a defendant who has access to a full-blown defense, Marlinga said.

Baumer's defense would cost at least $150,000, but virtually everyone involved donated their services.

"The doctors were outraged so much that a person was being charged," he said. "It was such a deep injustice they just made the time."
Julie Baumer, facing her second trial on the allegations, was acquitted of first-degree child abuse after her pro bono advocates mounted a medical defense that said injuries to infant Benjamin Zentz were naturally caused. "This actually was a form of childhood stroke … that mimics shaken baby syndrome," said lead defense attorney Carl Marlinga. "I'm very happy," Baumer said shortly after the verdict in Macomb County Circuit Court in Mount Clemens. "The nightmare I've been living the last eight years is finally over. … I want to get my life back together. I've got a lot to rebuild after 7 1/2 years." Benjamin, 7, who is brain damaged and blind, has the capacity of a child about 18 months old and requires constant care. Phillip and Debi Zentz of Shelby Township, the adopted parents of Benjamin, said they were disappointed with the verdict because they still believe Benjamin was abused. They support the abuse findings of Benjamin's treating physician, Dr. Steven Ham of Children's Hospital of Michigan in Detroit. "The verdict does not change our belief," they said in a written statement. "We believe in the diagnosis made by Dr. Ham at the time of Ben's injuries." The jury deliberated about six hours over two days following a more than three-week trial that featured a mountain of medical evidence. Six doctors for the defense and three doctors for the prosecution testified about their interpretations of images of Benjamin's head and personal observation by his treating doctors. Two treating physicians testified for the prosecution. Assistant Macomb prosecutor Richard Goodman argued that Baumer inflicted the injuries while Benjamin was under her care in October 2003. The case was circumstantial. Baumer brought him to Mount Clemens General Hospital (at the time) because he was listless, and Benjamin was soon transferred to Children's Hospital. He suffered brain and retinal bleeding, and a skull fracture. Baumer was convicted of first-degree child abuse by a jury in 2005 and sentenced by Judge James Biernat to 10 years in prison. But new medical opinion arose that venous sinus thrombosis could cause the same bleeding symptoms as shaken baby syndrome. Marlinga also argued that Benjamin's skull fracture had been suffered at another time, possibly during birth. Ave Marie Law School, which has moved from Michigan to Florida, initially took on Baumer's case, and attorneys Charles Lugosi and Marlinga joined in. The Innocence Clinic at University of Michigan took on the case, providing attorneys Bridget McCormack, David Moran and students. The group won a new trial based on new medical opinion. The jury in the second trial was not told about the prior conviction. Jury forewoman Sera Miller, 34, an investigator with the Social Security Administration, cited a lack of evidence of wrongdoing by Baumer. "We could not tie Julie Baumer to being responsible for those injuries to that child," Miller said. "There was absolute reasonable doubt. It (the injury) could have been caused by abuse or it could have been caused by a natural disease process." "We concluded we didn't know. There was not enough evidence to make an actual decision," added juror Jan Phannes of Sterling Heights. Miller noted the difficulty of wading through voluminous medical testimony. "We had two sets of experts with two different opinions. Who do you believe?" Miller said. "We had to set that aside and say, 'Is Julie response for this?' And the answer is 'no.'" Baumer thanked several of the jurors in the hallway outside the courtroom. Baumer, who was released with restrictions nearly a year ago, said she did not know her immediate career plans. She had been living with a family member. She said she cares for Benjamin and praised the Zentzes. "I love him and I always will," she said. "I appreciate the Zentz family for opening their hearts and home to him." She said she hopes someday to be able to visit Benjamin. "Perhaps a bridge can be formed between the two families," she said. The Zentzes in their statement said: "We wish no ill will on Ms. Baumer and her family and look forward to returning to our normal family with our sweet Ben." Marlinga said the case's outcome could have national ramifications. As far as he knows, it's the first case in which VST was shown to mimic shaken baby syndrome. He said medical experts and criminal defense attorneys should be aware of the possible misdiagnoses. He said the opinion is based on the reading of "radiology and CT scans and MRIs." "It's not a phony defense," he said. "You can't make it up." But he added, "If you're not looking for it, you won't see it." The case also demonstrates the power of a defendant who has access to a full-blown defense, Marlinga said. Baumer's defense would cost at least $150,000, but virtually everyone involved donated their services. "The doctors were outraged so much that a person was being charged," he said. "It was such a deep injustice they just made the time."

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