Autopsy shows extensive trauma in murder, child abuse case

As the pathologist checked the list of injuries in his autopsy report of a Rodgers Forge toddler, he kept repeating the same phrase: blunt-force trauma.

He must have said it 15 times.

Zabiullah Ali, who performed the autopsy of Andrew Griffin on Dec. 27, 2007, the day after the child was pronounced dead in a Towson hospital, testified in Baltimore County Circuit Court yesterday that Andrew showed signs of trauma throughout his body - bruises, lacerations and abrasions, some months old and "too many to count."

John and Susan Griffin, both 39, are accused of first-degree murder and child abuse in the death of Andrew, who was two months shy of his third birthday when he died and was one of the couple's five children at the time. A sixth child was born after Susan Griffin was incarcerated pending trial. Her husband, a computer systems engineer, is free on bail.

Using dozens of gruesome, close-up photographs of Andrew - his eyes and mouth open, his face bloody with wounds - Ali methodically described each of the injuries, some of them brown, others yellow and blue, depending on their age. Some abrasions and cuts were round, some crescent-shaped, he testified, suggesting that an object might have been used to strike the child. Andrew was devoid of fat, and his muscles had atrophied, the pathologist said, and he would have been incapable of walking. His starvation was so advanced that his brain had begun to shrink.

The pictures of the autopsy, conducted by Ali for the Maryland Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, became increasingly graphic, showing wounds and bruises on the boy's face, head, legs, feet, hands and arms. There were also signs that Andrew had been beaten on the soles of his feet, a pattern that Ali said he recognized because such beatings are conducted as a punishment in some Muslim nations. Andrew also had bed sores behind his ears, something that one would normally expect to find on a person's buttocks, Ali said.

An examination of the boy's head, he went on, showed "a minimum of three blows" to the right side. At that point, Andrew's father, who has shown almost no emotion during the trial since it began last week, became more and more upset. His face turned red and his head sank into his hands, his shoulders heaving.

His wife mostly averted her gaze from images of the dead boy, as she has done throughout, but could be seen at one point crying into a tissue.

Ali said Andrew also had pneumonia, a blood infection, and was dehydrated and "severely emaciated." Despite the extent of the injuries, the cause of death was starvation, Ali concluded, and the death was a homicide.

"At this phase of starvation, all the healing process was shut down," Ali said to explain why many of the boy's injuries, while apparently weeks or months old, were still visible.

Under questioning by prosecutor Robin S. Coffin, Ali said Andrew weighed 13 pounds at his death, what a normal 3-month-old baby weighs, and was almost as tiny. His heart weighed 34 grams; the heart of a normal boy his age would weight about twice that, Ali said.

During cross-examination, defense attorney Joseph Murtha, who represents the child's father, suggested to the pathologist that the pneumonia might have been a cause of Andrew's drastic loss of weight. Ali countered that the pneumonia and blood infection were indeed contributory factors in his death, but they were a result of the starvation, he said, which is what killed him.

After Ali's testimony, the prosecution rested its case.

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