LAWRENCE – Were baby Autumn’s 21 fractures and brain hemorrhage because of child abuse or was it a vitamin deficiency that caused her tiny, brittle bones to fracture?
Jury selection gets underway today in Lawrence Superior Court in the criminal trial of Heather Dragotta, 33, and Steve Amos, 34, who three years ago were arraigned on multiple charges of assault and battery on a child resulting in injury and permitting injury to a child.
The pair is accused of harming Autumn, who was just 5 1/2 weeks old when the fractures and hemorrhage were diagnosed, while they were living in North Andover, according to prosecutors.
The charges stem from June 3, 2010 emergency room visits, first at Lawrence General Hospital and later at Children’s Hospital in Boston where doctors determined Autumn’s injuries were “consistent with a violent shaking” and “inflicted,” Kate MacDougall, an Essex County Assistant District Attorney, said previously.
But Dragotta said her baby suffered from a lack of copper and a severe Vitamin D deficiency, known as infantile rickets, which caused the bone fractures.
She has a Facebook page, where she posted about her upcoming trial this week, called “Rickets an Epidemic,” to raise awareness of the disease and mobilize supporters. She, family members and friends also distributed pink rubber bracelets imprinted with “Autumn’s Angels.”
For the past three years, the child has lived at an undisclosed location in New Hampshire with her biological father. Dragotta was allowed to see her daughter during supervised visits.
Dragotta and Ames were indicted by the Essex County Grand Jury on Oct. 1, 2010 and arraigned on the child abuse charges on Oct. 14, 2010. Superior Court Judge Timothy Feeley ordered them to stay away from all children under age 12 and Amos was specifically ordered to have no contact with Autumn.
Court papers allege the abuse occurred between May 15 and June 3, 2010. Then, on June 3, after the infant was inconsolably crying, Dragotta and Amos took her to Lawrence General, where X-rays revealed a wrist fracture. She was transferred to Children’s Hospital, where a number of other fractures in her ribs, legs and arms and the brain hemorrhage were detected, MacDougall said.
MacDougall said a doctor testified before the grand jury, saying the injuries were consistent with a “violent shaking” and “inflicted.” The baby’s leg injuries required a “twisting motion,” she said.
Dragotta, however, wrote on her Facebook page that Autumn never had any visible injuries. She also said she exclusively breast fed Autumn, another risk factor for rickets, due to the absence of Vitamin D in breast milk.
A Chicago radiologist examined the baby’s X-rays and diagnosed her with infantile rickets. Dragotta was diagnosed with osteomalacia, the adult form of rickets, she said.
Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter @EagleTribJill.