Copyright 2012 © The Oklahoman
A leading expert on child abuse has concluded the injuries that killed an Edmond baby 10 months ago were suffered at the home of his baby sitter.
“It is obvious” that Edmond baby Jacob “Jake” Ryan Hedger suffered new and violent injuries on March 8, Dr. Robert Block, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, stated in a medical opinion reviewed Friday by The Oklahoman.
Jake was nearly 9 months old at the time of his death.
“It is my professional opinion that ... (Jake) suffered these new injuries between the hours of approximately 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. on March 8, 2011, while in the care of the baby sitter,” Block wrote.
The baby sitter, Traci Kramer, 41, has denied hurting Jake. No arrest has been made in the case.
Jake's parents have expressed frustration about the slow pace of the Edmond Police Department's investigation.
Questions have been raised about whether delays are because of professional friendships between Edmond police officers and the husband of the baby sitter.
Kevin Kramer, the baby sitter's husband, is a drug lab supervisor at the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation who helped train Edmond police officers in 2004 and 2007. Traci Kramer was operating an unlicensed home day care at the time of the death.
Prosecutors have not filed any charges primarily because the state doctor who did the autopsy will not narrow the time of the fatal injury to the time that Jake was at the baby sitter.
Block expressed no such time reservation in his medical opinion regarding Jake's death. The report was written at the request of the Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth, a state child-welfare oversight agency. The letter was dated Sept. 14 and marked “confidential.”
Block said his opinion was based on information from everyone interviewed that Jake had no injury symptoms when he was dropped off at the baby sitter's home that morning and the baby sitter did not report the appearance of any symptoms until about 3 p.m. that afternoon.
“His symptoms would have developed rapidly subsequent to the actual injury,” Block wrote.
Block, whose medical specialty is child abuse pediatrics, was chief child abuse examiner for Oklahoma at the time he issued his opinion and is now president of the American Academy of Pediatrics. He could not be reached for comment Friday.
Block's opinion is consistent with the opinions given by two physicians at The Children's Hospital at OU Medical Center, where Jake died. Those physicians reported they “believed that based on the nature of the injury and the time of contact to EMSA (the ambulance service) ... it was an injury that occurred while he was in the care of the day care and not his parents,” a Department of Human Services report states.
Gary James, attorney for the Kramers, said he has obtained medical opinions from two other experts who concluded the child was not injured while at the baby sitter's house.
“I have got one of the best doctors in the world on these kinds of stuff and I'll go with him and these are older injuries,” he said.
James would not identify his experts.
James said he did not know Block had done a report, but contended Block's opinion for the commission would be unreliable because Block had been consulted by the Hedgers' attorney about the death.
'If he's writing reports for the Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth, I hope he divulged that he's been in contact with the Hedgers' attorney,” James said.
Kevin Butler, the Hedgers' attorney, readily acknowledged consulting with Block early on in the investigation, but said Block was not paid and disputed any contention he may have been influenced.
“Absolutely not,” Butler said. “Dr. Block is beyond reproach. ... He is one of the top experts in the country regarding child abuse. He's recognized as that.”
Butler confirmed that his clients have gone to court to obtain tissue samples from their child's autopsy and are having those samples sent to Georgia expert Steve Dunton in hopes that he can analyze them and issue a more precise opinion about when the injuries were inflicted.
“We did that because, quite frankly, the investigation seemed to be going nowhere,” Butler said. “We wanted to get some conclusive evidence and so we hired our own expert to take a look at it.”
The Oklahoman reported Friday that Oklahoma County prosecutors have decided to present evidence in the case to the state's multicounty grand jury in an effort to move the investigation forward.
Butler said the Hedgers have been subpoenaed and will cooperate fully.
James said the Kramers have been subpoenaed to testify Jan. 31.
James said he did not know at this point whether his clients will answer questions from grand jurors or invoke their Constitutional right not to answer questions.
Zane Hedger, Jake's father, said he was pleased by recent developments.
“We would jump at the chance to speak for sure,” he said.
The baby's father said he believes Block's medical opinion is a major development because Block and Dr. John Stuemky are regarded as two of Oklahoma's leading experts on child abuse. Stuemky is one of the two OU physicians who previously told investigators they believe the fatal injury was inflicted at the baby sitter's house.
“That's two of the state's leading authorities right there — wow!” the father said. “We are excited to see movement on the case after 10 months. We are hoping this momentum builds and keeps pushing forward quickly. We are ... very grateful for the outreach from the community who have been giving prayer and support for us. That has been very important in seeing us through this mess.”