Testimony in the trial of Dakota Black, charged with killing his girlfriend’s son in 2013, wrapped up Wednesday after a defense expert said the head injuries that caused the boy’s death were old.
Black, 25, is charged with first-degree reckless homicide for the death of Brayden Turnbill, 5, who died on Oct. 24, 2013, two days after he was found unresponsive on his bed in the basement of a Sun Prairie home where Brayden, his mother, and Black were living.
Testimony in Black’s trial started on Sept. 15 and ended Wednesday. Black did not testify. Jurors will hear closing arguments on Thursday morning and will then begin deliberations.
Doctors called by prosecutors during the trial said that Brayden died from a traumatic brain injury, and that he was unconscious from the injury within minutes, if not immediately. Testimony has shown that before Brayden was found unconscious, he went down to the basement, followed by Black, the only adult in the home at the time, who shut the door behind him.
Defense expert Dr. Jan Leestma, a neuropathologist from Chicago, testified that after examining medical records he believes that Brayden suffered from a pre-existing brain bleed, possibly from falling down stairs.
Leestma said he believes that pressure built inside Braden’s skull, possibly for weeks or longer, until Oct. 22, 2013, when Brayden’s mother, Shannon Turnbill, came home from work and found her son unresponsive. He died two days later at American Family Children’s Hospital.
Leestma also testified that Brayden could have had a previously undiagnosed bleeding or clotting disorder that caused him to bleed abnormally in his brain.
Leestma said that while Brayden was able to function, there was evidence that he wasn’t feeling well, although he could not provide any specifics about who made that statement.
On cross-examination by Deputy District Attorney Thomas Fallon, Leestma said he wasn’t aware that Brayden had had a tonsillectomy the year before, when symptoms of a bleeding disorder might have appeared, nor was he aware that Brayden, like all children in Wisconsin, was screened at birth for blood disorders.
Fallon also attacked Leestma’s assertion that Brayden had old injuries in his brain that had healed or begun healing, reading from a 2009 textbook that Leestma wrote on forensic neuropathology.
Leestma testified that because he saw the presence of microphages, the immune system’s response to injury, in microscopic slides of Brayden’s brain, the most recent of the injuries in Brayden’s brain occurred days or even weeks before Brayden was found unconscious. He said that microphages wouldn’t be seen until three to five days or longer after the injury.
But in his textbook, Leestma wrote that microphages could appear within 12 to 24 hours. Leestma told Fallon that his opinion had changed since publication of the book, but he couldn’t remember whether he changed it for the book’s 2014 revision.
Dr. Vincent Tranchida, Dane County chief medical examiner, testified on rebuttal that he looked at the same microscopic slides as Leestma and did not agree that they show evidence of an old bleed, but instead show evidence of much more recent trauma.