Pediatrician calls Naser "a battered child"
CHAMBERLAIN — A pediatrician testified Wednesday that the pattern and number of bruises on Mason Naser were "very concerning" and not those suffered in normal child activities.
"He was a battered child," said Dr. Nancy Free, a board certified pediatrician and medical director at Child's Voice, a child advocacy center in Sioux Falls. She testified for the prosecution during a trial against a Gann Valley woman.
Donika Gonzales, 23, is charged with second-degree murder of Naser, two alternate counts of first-degree manslaughter, one count of aggravated assault and one count of felony child abuse.
Gonzales was Tyler Naser Sr.'s live-in girlfriend when Mason Naser died Feb. 21, 2013, as a result of blunt force injury to the abdomen due to alleged abuse. Gonzales is not the boy's mother, but Tyler Naser Sr. is the boy's father. Wednesday was the fourth day of an ongoing trial that is expected to last throughout the week at the Brule County Courthouse in Chamberlain.
Dr. Free also works with SCAN teams — suspected or screening for child abuse and neglect. Free testified she is specifically trained to observe and diagnose child abuse.
After reading through Naser's medical records, the autopsy report, pictures of Naser's body and his home environment, interviews by law enforcement and other information in the death investigation, Free determined Naser was abused.
Dr. Gautam Ray, a biomechanical engineering professor at Penn State University, testified for the prosecution that the child would not have suffered severe internal injuries — like a lacerated and severed liver and pancreas — in a fall from a bunk bed or from being pushed to the floor. Ray told the jury, however, a stomping action — like Gonzales described in her interview with law enforcement the night Naser died — would have caused injuries Naser suffered.
The prosecution rested its case Wednesday afternoon.
Defense attorney Doug Papendick told the jury in his opening statements they would hear in testimony from two expert witnesses that Naser's death was not homicide, rather "a very tragic accident."
He called Dr. Chris Van Ee, a biomechanical engineer at Design Research Engineering in Michigan, to testify that Naser's injuries could have been caused by a fall from a bunk bed on to a toy or other blunt object.
"Whatever object it is that hit the abdomen, it didn't leave a signature mark of some sort," Van Ee said. "I noted if it was a toy, it would have to be somewhat broad. A fall from a bunk bed could generate the force necessary to cause this type of injury."
Assistant Attorney General Bob Mayer argued there was no history given to Van Ee that Naser fell from a bunk bed. Van Ee contested the scenario shouldn't be dismissed just because there is no history of falling from a bunk bed. Rather, it should be considered because the injuries are consistent with a fall from that height.
Defense attorney Doug Papendick requested a judgment of acquittal in the case and moved for mistrial after the prosecution rested its case.
Judge Bruce Anderson denied the request for acquittal, stating the state gave sufficient evidence for each count with which Gonzales is charged — second-degree murder, two alternate counts of first-degree manslaughter, and alternate counts of aggravated assault and felony child abuse.
Anderson also denied the motion for mistrial, stating a witness Tuesday did add a little to the testimony compared to a report.
"But I don't feel it was prejudicial that a mistrial should be granted," Anderson said.