Trial continues for mother in alleged child abuse case

Editors note: The jury was in deliberations when this story went to press. Please check back here as updates and more details emerge.

LEXINGTON – Dawson County Attorney Liz Waterman took testimony from four physicians in the second day of the Doris Herrin trial, Tuesday.

Herrin, 28, of Gothenburg is charged with child abuse resulting in the death of her 3-year-old daughter Misty on Dec. 22, 2010. She has been in the Dawson County Jail since then.

A pediatrician, a neurosurgeon, a pathologist and a pediatrician specializing in child abuse were among seven people who testified Tuesday.

All four physicians disbelieve Herrin’s explanation that her daughter suffered her fatal injury in a fall of four to five feet from a bedroom dresser.

Kenton Schaffer, a Kearney pediatrician, said he had an emergency team assembled and ready to meet Misty Herrin at Good Samaritan Hospital the afternoon of Dec. 21, 2010, when Misty was delivered from Gothenburg by Good Sam’s AirCare helicopter.

Schaffer said Misty was in the operating room within three minutes of her arrival. A CT scan revealed her brain was badly injured and had shifted to the left from pressure caused by the injury on the right side. Efforts were made to increase her heart rate, but a CT scan revealed that not enough blood was reaching the left side.

“That side of her brain was dying,” Schaffer said.

Dr. Chinyere Obasi, a Kearney neurosurgeon, later testified that he made an opening in the right side of Misty’s skull to relieve the pressure. When Obasi opened a small patch of the skull, he said about 3 inches by 3 inches, and the brain started coming out of the skull because of the pressure within it.

The child had been ventilated in Gothenburg and remained on a ventilator overnight. The following morning, an examination revealed no evidence of brain function.

“She was brain dead,” Schaffer said. After a discussion with the family, life support was removed. Schaffer declared Misty dead at about 1:30 p.m.

Shaffer said the previous afternoon when he asked Herrin and Adam Jesseph, her boyfriend, what had happened, they said they thought she fell from a toy box.

“I found the answer questionable,” Schaffer said. “It didn’t make sense to me.”

Under cross-examination by Jeff Wightman, Herrin’s attorney, Schaffer said the explanation of the injuries didn’t add up. He said there was indication of another injury before Dec. 21.

The existence of an earlier injury came up several times, and on each occasion Waterman objected that no foundation existed to enter that subject.

The longest testimony came from Dr. David Jaskierny, an Omaha pathologist, who was on the witness stand for about two hours while the prosecution introduced color photographs of Misty’s body, including her brain.

The photos of her brain displayed the swelling of one hemisphere of the brain and the movement of blood between the two spheres of the brain.

The jury watched intently as Jaskierny interpreted each photograph, some showing injuries such as on the back of the legs and the buttocks.

Doris Herrin turned her head away and appeared to weep.

“With medical certainty I don’t think she fell, struck her head, and died,” Jaskierny said under cross-examination.

He added that there was no fracture of the skull.

“Violent shaking could cause this kind of brain injury,” he said, but said there was no evidence that she had been grasped by the shoulders.

Dr. Suzanne Haney, a pediatrician associated with Project Harmony in Omaha, said it was her judgment the injuries Misty suffered did not come from a fall in a house.

Asked for her opinion by Waterman, Haney replied, “She did not die from a fall. I don’t know the cause, and I don’t know who caused it.”

It was the defense’s turn Thursday and two elements emerged.

Shaun Stevens, who operated a Gothenburg day care, said Misty Herrin was what Stevens described as a climber and a jumper.

“Some children are, and others aren’t,” Stevens said.

She said Misty liked to climb on things and jump from them. At one point, she said she found Misty jumping from one bunk bed to another and had to order her to stop.

This same spirit of adventure was confirmed in testimony by Rebecca Allen, who was friends with Herrin when Allen’s family lived near North Platte and Herrin came to visit in the summer of 2010.

Allen said Misty would climb a tree, a picnic table and even a trampoline. If she fell, she never seemed to hurt herself other than bumps and bruises.

The second element that defense attorney Jeff Wightman brought out Thursday was that Adam Jesseph, with whom Herrin lived for about a month in late 2010, tried to prevent Herrin from talking with other people after Misty Herrin’s death.

Allen recounted a visit from Herrin and Jesseph in the period between Misty Herrin’s death and the Dec. 24 arrest of Herrin and Jesseph on felony child abuse charges.

When Herrin tried to talk with Allen, Allen said, Jesseph would interrupt her to prevent a conversation.

Herrin asked to use the bathroom, which was off the bedroom, and when Allen said she and Herrin went into the bedroom, Jesseph went with them.

“I told him, ‘This is my bedroom, and you can’t come in here,’” she said.

Allen’s husband, Gregory, said Jesseph seemed reluctant to leave the room, and he told Jesseph he needed to leave the bedroom, that Herrin could do her own business.

Gregory Allen described Jesseph as controlling and said he took Herrin’s cellphone from her, then returned it after checking it.

“I didn’t care for him,” Gregory said.

The Allens said Herrin was distraught, seemed very depressed and was tearful during the visit. Jesseph directed them to leave after 20 to 30 minutes.

Wightman brought a Los Angeles pathologist, Dr. David Posey, to the stand Thursday afternoon. Posey said bruises on the body of Misty Herrin were from being handled by medical people in the process of examining her and moving her around.

He went into detail to explain his belief the child suffered a previous injury that resulted in an acute chronic subdural hematoma.

Posey said there was no way to know when or how the earlier injury occurred. The formation of another membrane about the brain indicated the injury happened 15 to 30 days before.

Posey said he couldn’t find evidence of a shaken baby syndrome because of the absence of any damage to the neck or spine.

Dawson County attorney Liz Waterman brought her own pathologist to the stand, Dr. Matthias Okoye, a director of forensic medicine at the University of Nebraska.

Okoye disagreed with much of what Posey had presented, including that Misty Herrin suffered a chronic acute subdural hematoma.

Both physicians went into great detail filled with technical analyses to explain their points.

A previously unheard version of Misty Herrin’s injury was entered in Wednesday’s testimony.

Amber Winkenwerder was a cellmate of Doris Herrin in the Dawson County jail on two occasions in 2012. She testified that each time Herrin told of Misty’s injury, details of the story changed.

She said as Herrin altered the details in describing her case, she became convinced that Herrin was not being honest. It was the weekend of Easter Sunday, April 24, 2011, and they were having a conversation about God and Winkenwerder told Herrin she didn’t believe Herrin was being honest.

She said Herrin replied, “I’ll tell you what happened,” and gave a version of her daughter’s injury that had not yet been heard during her trial.

Winkenwerder said Herrin told her Misty had been in bed the morning of Dec. 21, 2010, making a great deal of noise as she jumped up and down on the bed.

She said Herrin told her she went into the bedroom and found Misty had urinated in her pajamas while in bed.

Winkenwerder said Herrin told her she told Misty to shut up, shook her, and shoved her against the bedroom wall next to Misty’s bed. Misty became quiet and Herrin returned to bed.

Winkenwerder wrote a detailed account of her conversation with Herrin and her opinions and sent it to the Gothenburg Police Department. Winkenwerder said she knew Herrin from living in North Platte at the same time and did not have anything to gain by submitting her statement.

Two other witnesses, both currently in the Dawson County Jail, said they never saw or heard Herrin and Winkenwerder talk.


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