EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 22, 2013

Child abuse expert: Baby's bone breaks were 'inflicted'

By Jill Harmacinski

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LAWRENCE -- A pediatric radiologist who specializes in detecting child abuse yesterday testified a myriad of bone fractures suffered by infant Autumn Dragotta were "inflicted."

Dr. Paul Kleinman of Boston Children's Hospital, studied X-rays taken of the baby, who ended up first in the Lawrence General Hospital emergency room and later at Children's on June 3, 2010.

The infant's then caretakers, her mother Heather Dragotta, 33, and Dragotta's companion, Steve Amos, 34, are on trial for allegedly abusing the baby girl,.

Autumn was 5 1/2 weeks old when she was diagnosed with 21 fractures and a brain hemorrhage.

Both Dragotta and Amos face multiple charges of assault and battery on a child resulting in injury and permitting an injury to a child. The abuse allegedly occurred while the pair was living in North Andover.

While police immediate began a child abuse investigation after Autumn's hospitalization, Dragotta has said the infant's injuries were caused by copper and Vitamin D deficiencies, a condition known as infantile rickets.

Under questioning by prosecutor Kate MacDougall, Kleinman described broken ribs as well as arm and leg fractures he diagnosed using Autumn's X-rays, which were displayed in a Power Point presentation in the courtroom. Kleinman, using a black magic marker, also indicated bone breaks on the baby's arms and legs on the image of a skeleton on a poster board in the courtroom.

Kleinman said he found no evidence that would indicate problems with the baby's bone health or other conditions that would contribute to the fractures. MacDougall asked him what he believed to be the cause of the fractures.

"That they were inflicted injuries," Kleinman said.

Later, under questioning by Amos' defense attorney, Kevin Mitchell, Kleinman said fractures in baby's bones "do not occur spontaneously. Nor do they occur in the customary handling of a child."

A social worker from the state's Department of Children and Families, who investigated Autumn's injuries, testified Friday that Dragotta and Amos used a "bicycle technique" of rotating the baby's legs in a circular motion to help relieve gas. Dragotta said she taught Amos this, but he soon developed his own technique that involved grabbing Autumn's legs and bringing them forward so her knees would be pressing her stomach, Amy Silverio, a DCF worker, testified.

Silverio testified that during her interview with Amos, he said he thought his technique resulted in the baby's broken ribs. Dragotta said she asked Amos to stop performing his technique when she watched Autumn turn red and cry after it was done, Silverio said.

Judge Richard Welch, who will render verdicts in the jury-waived trial, yesterday asked Kleinman if bicycling a baby's legs could lead to bone fractures. Kleinman said answering his question was difficult but noted, "If an injury results, the child is likely to be unhappy."

Kleinman added that anyone who has broken a bone can tell you that it's painful.

Silverio testified earlier that Amos told her that when Autumn was first born "he treated her like a piece of crystal but then later thought she was more flexible than he originally believed."

On her Facebook page, "Rickets an Epidemic," which is dedicated to mobilizing support to combat the condition, Dragotta said she and Autumn both suffered from Vitamin D deficiencies. She said she exclusively breastfed her baby, another risk for rickets, due to the absence of Vitamin D in breast milk.

For the past three years, Autumn has lived with her biological father at an undisclosed location in New Hampshire. Dragotta was allowed to see her during supervised visits.

She and Amos face up to five years in state prison or 2 1/2 years in the county jail on each of the child abuse charges, according to Massachusetts General Laws.

The trial continues today in Lawrence Superior Court.

Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter @EagleTribJill.