© 2011, The Oklahoman
The Edmond baby, Jacob “Jake” Ryan Hedger, was killed in March. He suffered a head injury so traumatic his small skull cracked.
Almost nine months later, no one has been arrested. “We'd like to find out who killed this child,” Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater said. “There are times when we don't ever have enough evidence to charge the perpetrator.”
Jake, who was almost 9 months old, died one day after he was taken by ambulance from his baby sitter's Edmond home. The baby sitter, Traci Kramer, 41, is the wife of a drug lab supervisor at the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation. She was operating an unlicensed home day care.
Jake's death was ruled a homicide.
“One of the doctors had likened it to breaking up a bag of ice,” Jake's father, Zane Hedger, 41, said of the fatal injury.
Edmond police officials said they still are working to find “justice for this baby,” but they have shrouded the investigation in secrecy from the start. At issue is when the baby was hurt — before or after he arrived at the baby sitter's home the morning of March 8.
Death's time disputed
Two physicians at The Children's Hospital at OU Medical Center, where Jake died, reported they “believed that based on the nature of the injury and the time of contact to EMSA … it was an injury that occurred while he was in the care of the day care and not his parents,” a DHS report shows. The forensic pathologist who did the autopsy, though, would not narrow the time down that far.
Police have hired a new expert to try to pinpoint the time of the fatal injury.
Also at issue is whether the police inquiry has been compromised because of the OSBI connection.
The baby's parents — who say police have not cleared them — are so frustrated they wish some other agency could take over. They deny they hurt their son.
“It's ridiculous,” said Jake's mother, Leah Hedger, 36.
“A baby — my baby, our baby — has been murdered,” the second-grade teacher said. “We're just waiting. It's almost like, ‘The longer we let it go, you'll just forget about it.' … Well, that's not an option for us.”
She said she is tired of hearing from police and others that this is such a strange case and how “everybody knows the Hedgers and everybody knows the Kramers and they're both really nice families.”
She said, “I need my son's murder solved.”
Jake stopped breathing the afternoon of March 8, a Tuesday. He had been with his baby sitter for about seven hours when she called 911, records show.
The baby sitter's husband, Kevin Lee Kramer, is a longtime criminalist supervisor at the OSBI drug lab. He helped train Edmond police officers in 2004 and 2007, the OSBI said.
Three state legislators raised the issue of possible undue influence with OSBI Director Stan Florence. They notified the director that an OSBI employee had asked the medical examiner's office in an email when the autopsy report would be completed.
“There is a concern, I will tell you, that you've got a family here where somebody works for a really important law enforcement agency. It just makes you ask yourself a lot of questions,” said one of the legislators, state Rep. Jason Nelson, who has talked to the Hedgers.
“I don't have a lot of answers for them yet,” said Nelson, R-Oklahoma City.
Nelson also said: “I'm not saying that I think somebody in the police department is doing anything inappropriate. I just want to make sure that people are looking at that, to make sure that is not happening.”
Traci Kramer denied hurting the boy. Her attorney, Gary James, said she “loved children. She has cared for children for a long period of time. … There has never been a question about her.”
The Department of Human Services on March 9 ordered Traci Kramer to cease caring for children because she was operating without a license.
The parents said they asked doctors what happened to their son and whether he could have simply been dropped. They said they were told it was no accident.
Dr. Chai Choi, a longtime forensic pathologist at the medical examiner's office, determined the boy had skull fractures and died from “blunt force head trauma.” The autopsy showed he also had pneumonia.
Parents voice concerns
Jake's parents complain the police have not interviewed key witnesses, including the boy's aunt and grandmother, who saw him the weekend before his death.
“They've never asked me a question. Not one,” said the aunt, Tammy Padgett.
Particularly upsetting to the parents is that police claim the Hedgers are not cooperating because they won't take a police polygraph test. They said they have cooperated with police and, in April, passed a polygraph test they paid for themselves.
Zane Hedger said he absolutely wishes another agency could take over the investigation.
“Grand jury, sheriff's office, we don't know,” he said.
The father said he would be against the FBI taking over because Edmond
“I can't believe I'm sitting here saying that, but what are we supposed to think at this point?” Zane Hedger said.
The parents said they are raising money to hire a new forensic expert themselves.
Ricks declined to be interviewed for this story.
Edmond police spokeswoman Glynda Chu stated in an email that the police department is paying for a new child forensic expert.
She also said: “If anyone is dragging feet, it is the parents by not cooperating with the police, refusing to take a police polygraph and refusing to be interviewed by police.”
“This is an investigation into the death of a child. The integrity of this investigation is of the utmost importance to the Edmond Police Department,” Chu said. “Nothing will be done in any way to jeopardize this investigation.”
The police spokeswoman said police asked the baby sitter to take a polygraph test, too, several times, but her attorney has not yet made her available. The baby sitter's attorney, James, gave a different version, saying she has not been — to his knowledge — formally asked for a polygraph test. He said he won't agree to a polygraph test anyway because he considers such tests unreliable.
Florence, the OSBI director, said he is confident the Edmond Police Department is conducting an independent investigation. He said Kevin Kramer's supervisor did ask when the autopsy report would be done, but did not follow up and actually get the report. The director said he is reviewing whether anything else was done.
“I want to make sure there's nothing more to it,” Florence said.
Before the death
Jake had been home sick with his father the week before his death. Zane Hedger was unemployed at the time.
Jake was with a different baby sitter March 7. Jake was dropped off about 7:50 a.m. March 8 at Traci Kramer's house. She called 911 shortly after 3 p.m. because he wasn't breathing, DHS records show. She said she discovered the problem when she tried to wake him up from a nap.
She told a DHS worker and a police detective Jake had been fussy at times during the day but was “acting happy go lucky” in the morning, the DHS reports show. She called the Hedg
Jake had been injured before, suffering a fractured arm two months earlier, records show. Both the parents and Traci Kramer knew about the injury, but all three told investigators they don't know who did it. His mother took him to be examined. She said the doctor reported he was hurt by someone pulling on his arm.
A prosecutor who specializes in child deaths met June 15 with an Edmond police detective, Dr. John Stuemky and Choi. Stuemky, a child-abuse expert, is one of the doctors who concluded the injury happened at the day care. The prosecutor, Assistant District Attorney SuAnne Carlson, decided she could not charge anyone yet with murder because Choi could not narrow down the time of the fatal injury.
Choi's boss, Chief Medical Examiner Eric Pfeifer, declined to comment because he may someday have to testify about the death. He said in an email, “This is a very difficult case being reviewed by forensic pathologists around the country.”
Suspicious to prosecutors is evidence suggesting Traci Kramer called her husband before calling 911, The Oklahoman has learned. Also, Traci Kramer did not notify Jake's parents about their son's emergency. They found out by happenstance.
Traci Kramer's attorney interprets the evidence from the autopsy as showing Jake suffered the skull fractures before he came to the Kramers' house March 8. He called that evidence “literally … my acquittal” if Traci Kramer is charged.
The attorney, James, said the prosecution expert, Stuemky, has been wrong before.
James said he has hired two of the top experts in the world, a forensic pathologist and the chief of pediatric intensive care at a hospital. The attorney would not identify the experts. He said the forensic pathologist determined the injuries are old and outside the time frame his client was with the child.
Illness possible cause
He said the second expert, the hospital pediatrician, believes Jake may have stopped breathing because of the baby's respiratory illness the week before.
He said Traci Kramer did not call Jake's parents because police told her not to call them. The attorney did not make the Kramers available for an interview with The Oklahoman.
“It's a big … whodunit,” James said.
Concerns about the day care have come up before. John Keene, 36, of Edmond, told The Oklahoman he stopped taking his daughter, then 1, there in 2005 after a series of troubling incidents including a cheek abrasion.
“It was one of those situations that just didn't feel right,” Keene said.
At a glance
Panic heard in two 911 calls
EDMOND — In two emotional 911 calls March 8, baby sitter Traci Kramer cries out a baby boy's nickname and, in a hysterical voice, says, “Oh, God! What do I do?”
Police refused to make public the recordings of Kramer's calls for help for Jacob “Jake” Hedger, whose death has been ruled a homicide. The Oklahoman obtained the recordings from a source.
In the first brief call, a panting Kramer cries, “Jake! Jake!” An operator says, “Dang it. This is ridiculous.”
In the second longer call, an operator tells Kramer, then 40, to stay on the phone, then switches her to an EMSA worker. The EMSA worker quickly asks her some questions and then calmly instructs her on how to help the baby breathe until paramedics arrive.
“Hurry fast!” Kramer said. “I was getting him up from his nap to get my daughter and he was like just not there. … I don't see his chest moving. … I found him this way. … His lips are purple.”
From Staff Reports