The trial of Dakota Black, accused of first-degree reckless homicide in the 2013 death of his girlfriend’s 5-year-old son, shifted to the defense Monday after prosecutors finished their case with an expert who said he believes the boy’s severe brain injury was not caused accidentally.
Prosecutors ended with testimony from Dr. Wilbur Smith, a pediatric radiologist who said that Brayden Turnbill died from blunt force trauma that “was inflicted for want of an adequate accidental cause.”
“This was a very major injury, so it would have taken a lot of force to cause this injury,” said Smith, who has testified at least 120 times around the nation, mostly for prosecutors, as an expert on abuse-inflicted injuries.
As the defense took over, countering Smith was Dr. John Plunkett, a forensic pathologist from Minnesota who has testified about 150 times nationally for defense lawyers over the past 10 years, also on abuse-inflicted injuries.
Plunkett testified that he didn’t know whether Brayden’s head injury was accidental or inflicted, but said it was possible that he fell down a flight of stairs leading into the basement of the Sun Prairie home where he and his family were living with a cousin of Brayden’s mother, Shannon Turnbill.
The two disagreed on some key matters, including whether Brayden would have suffered immediate consequences of his brain injury — Plunkett said he would have had a “lucid interval” before losing consciousness, while Smith said he would have been unconscious immediately — and about the degree of force it would have taken to inflict such an injury or whether a short fall could have been enough to cause it.
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Black’s lawyer, John Smerlinski, also gave an opening statement to jurors after having waived it at the beginning of the trial. He told jurors that evidence would show that the hemorrhage that killed Brayden was five to seven days old and that he had had pressure building inside his head “for weeks” before he was found unconscious on his bed on Oct. 22, 2013.
Smerlinski also said that prosecutors could not say definitively how Brayden was injured.
“No one knows what happened to young Brayden that day,” Smerlinski said.
Deputy District Attorney Thomas Fallon and Assistant District Attorney Adrienne Blais contend that other than Brayden’s 1-year-old half-brother, Black, 25, was the only person home with Bryden before he was found unconscious, and that Brayden had exhibited no symptoms of traumatic brain injury before that time.
The trial is expected to continue through Thursday.