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Medical examiner: Garner toddler had signs of abuse

Posted August 16, 2010 12:49 p.m. EDT
Updated August 16, 2010 6:03 p.m. EDT

— A medical examiner testified Monday that a deceased Garner toddler's injuries were indicative of child abuse and not a fall from the couch, as his mother told police.

Sherita Nicole McNeil, of Garner, is on trial in the death of her 19-month-old son, DeVarion Gross. She is charged with first-degree murder and concealing the death. DeVarion was found decomposed in his mother's closet in November 2008.

Prosecutors have argued that McNeil killed him, doused him in bleach and wrapped him in a garbage bag about six weeks earlier.

McNeil told police that her son fell and hit his head on a coffee table.

Defense attorneys have said that McNeil didn't call 911 for fear of going to jail and of the boy's father, Eric Chambers.

Medical examiner Dr. Maryanne Gaffney-Kraft said Monday that DeVarion had three rib fractures, all at various stages of healing. Two of the fractures appeared to have occurred one to three months prior to the child's death. The third rib fracture happened one to two weeks before his death.

"It is very difficult to give a child a rib fracture," she said.

Gaffney-Kraft said because children are flexible, rib fractures don't occur in normal rough-housing activities. The injuries would have to come from a high-velocity incident, like a car crash. She said DeVarion's injuries were consistent with child abuse.

Gaffney-Kraft added that the rib fractures would have made it too painful for DeVarion to jump on the couch.

“He would have been crying, he would have been fussy. Anything the child did would have been painful,” she said.

If he had fallen off the couch, she said, he would have sustained a short-fall injury.

"It is extremely rare for a child to die from a fall of less than three-feet," Gaffney-Kraft said.

Because Gross' remains were so decomposed, the medical examiner could not pinpoint an exact cause of death.

But she testified that based on the fractures, and the fact that the child did not have a skull injury, McNeil's story doesn't make sense, and that the death was not an accident.

"The cause of death was undetermined homicidal violence," Gaffney-Kraft said.

Relatives and caregivers of the boy have testified that they suspected his mother of abuse and neglect.

The prosecution rested its case on Monday.