What Happened to Christopher: An American Family's Story of Shaken Baby Syndrome

Ann-Janine Morey, Author Southern Illinois University Press $24 (192p) ISBN 978-0-8093-2215-2
An alternate juror for the trial of a man accused of shaking a 19-month-old infant to death, Morley, an English professor at Southern Illinois University, was compelled to write about the experience, in the hope of tightening child-abuse laws and ""bring[ing] something constructive from this senseless death."" Morey's opening profile of Christopher's immediate family and caregivers paints a disturbing picture: both parents, Chuck and Rhonda, abused alcohol, were sexually promiscuous and worked in a series of low-paying jobs, often foisting the child onto their siblings and parents. When Chuck went to prison after pushing Rhonda and holding her head under her bathwater, she took up with Gary, an abusive sometime drug dealer. Morey then pieces together the events leading up to Christopher's death, for which Gary was eventually convicted (after allegedly raping Rhonda at knifepoint while out on bail), documenting the bewildered family's 48 hours in the hospital and the subsequent police investigation. For her unembroidered detailing of the trial, she interviews the judge, jury members, prosecutor and social workers, and compares Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS) statistics with Christopher's case. The narrative can be disjointed, as Morey gives us the family's side as she gets it from Christopher's two grandmothers and others, splicing in her own insightful commentary and reactions. While her focus on the family's feelings of guilt and her lack of legal or medical credentials give her technical SBS discussions less clinical credibility, her unflinching look into the family's troubled lives makes for a grim, compelling warning. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 12/29/1997
Release date: 11/01/1998
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