Former Tarrant County Deputy Medical Examiner Dr. Gary Sisler took the stand in the 415th District Court Friday morning, telling jurors he believes injuries causing the death of 14-month-old Kamden Lee Bailey were inflicted – not accidental.
Rodney Chase Pettigrew, 27, of Parker County faces life in prison without the possibilty of parole if convicted of capital murder in the Sept. 16, 2011 death of his girlfriend’s child. Pettigrew was watching the child alone the morning of Sept. 15, 2011, when the injury occurred at Pettigrew’s parents’ home on Jaybird Road.
Pettigrew also faces a first degree felony charge of injury to a child.
The infant, who had just learned to walk but could not yet talk, died due to a traumatic head injury and his death was ruled a homicide, jurors were told.
Pettigrew told investigators that the boy tumbled off a kitchen counter and landed on his head on the floor. Pettigrew said he sat the child on the counter and momentarily turned his back to the boy while preparing a meal.
However, the forensic pathologist told jurors that, while he can’t say for certain, he believes the complex fracture on the back of Kamden’s head was likely caused by an uneven surface rather than a fall onto a flat surface.
Medical studies show that short falls by infants typically result in small fractures, according to Sisler, who said Kamden’s fracture was massive.
Short falls are generally not fatal to small children, Sisler said, later adding that high velocity is needed to kill with a short fall. The impact described by Pettigrew was low impact, Sisler said.
Though it would not be ludicrous to say a short fall such as Pettigrew described could cause Kamden’s injuries, the majority of the medical community believes such trauma is inflicted, Sisler told jurors.
The boy’s injuries were consistent with inflicted trauma, not accidental trauma, and he believes it took a large amount of force to cause the injuries, Sisler said.
Kamden was slammed or thrown against a hard object or was struck with a hard object, the doctor said.
Sisler said he could not tell whether the laceration to Kamden’s spleen was due to trauma or a medical incision made when harvesting the boy’s organs prior to autopsy.
During recorded conversations with investigators the day of the incident, Pettigrew maintained that the boy fell head first from the counter when he turned his back, jurors heard Friday.
“I’m upset with myself,” Pettigrew said, adding that he could have put the boy on the floor and that he used to do the same with his daughter.
However, former Parker County Sheriff’s Investigator Sammy Slatten questioned why Pettigrew initially gave a 911 dispatcher a different story.
Pettigrew told the dispatcher he was on the other side of the counter, did not see the fall and came around the kitchen island to find the boy lifeless on the floor.
“I was trying to tell him anything,” Pettigrew said. “Just get here.”
Asked if he harmed the child, Pettigrew said he did not and would not do that.
“It was an accident,” Pettigrew said. “He fell off.”
“I just feel like this is blown out of proportion,” Pettigrew said later in the interview with Slatten and Texas Ranger Danny Briley. “I didn’t do anything.”
Testimony is expected to continue Monday morning.