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  • Writer's pictureChris Brook

Joby Rowe: 9 year sentence based on Junk Science

Updated: Oct 4, 2019

Joby Rowe was convicted of child homicide in the Supreme Court of Victoria in August 2018, found to have shaken to death his three month old daughter Alanah. Rowe is serving a nine year sentence. Rowe has consistently and steadfastly denied shaking Alanah, or physically abusing her in any way. There were no external injuries to Alanah, such as broken bones, bruising, or neck injuries. No witness saw Rowe shake Alanah, and there is no history of abuse or violence on the part of Rowe. The evidence against Rowe was purely based on expert testimony that Alanah had injuries that can only occur through being violently shaken.

Specifically, when she died Alanah had retinal and subdural haemorrhages, swelling of the brain and retinal haemorrhages. The crown medical experts allege that when taken together, this ‘triad’ of injuries are indicative of inflicted head trauma, and can only have arisen by reason of ‘acceleration/deceleration trauma being inflicted on Alanah by another person’[1]. This notion that certain brain injuries can only occur through violent shaking is at the heart of the controversy over shaken baby syndrome. It creates a presumption that when a baby presents certain symptoms, the last person to have been looking after it must be guilty. This is the presumption that was faced by Joby Rowe. The crown’s star witness were Dr. Linda Iles, the director of forensic pathology at the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine, and Dr Jo Tully, director of forensic pediatric medicine at the Royal Children’s Hospital. Iles testified that there was no alternative explanation for Alanah’s injuries, that they could only be caused by “mechanical head trauma” inflicted by an outside source[2]. Tully similarly asserted that the injuries were a result of shaken baby syndrome.[3] The prosecution asserted that ‘the only reasonable explanation for those injuries is that they occurred from her being shaken and shaken beyond normal handling”[4] and that 'these clinical findings ... (are) a smoking gun that shaking occurred’[5].

So the case against Rowe was 100% based on arguments that were found by a comprehensive, independent Swedish review to lack scientific basis (see my blog post here). In fact, the prosecution even conceded that there is no science to support their assertions. Dr Iles openly stated that the presumption that the injuries suffered by Alanah can only have one explanation, that the baby was shaken, does not have a ‘‘sufficient scientifically robust evidence base’’[6]. So one may ask, if the expert opinion evidence is not based on robust science, what is its basis? What is the basis upon which the highest ranking pathologist in the state of Victoria, along with one of its highest ranking forensic paediatricians, are providing expert testimony that resulted in Joby Rowe being convicted of killing his daughter and sentenced to 9 years in prison?

The experts relied heavily on confession studies,. No, Joby Rowe did not confess. He steadfastly asserted his innocence. Confession studies claim that, because some alleged perpetrators have confessed to shaking infants who presented with the Shaken Baby associated head injuries, that such head injuries must be caused by shaking. Yet these studies are hopelessly flawed for a whole range of reasons, as I point out in this peer reviewed article in the Australian Journal of Forensic Science (I am certainly not the first to point to such flaws, e.g. see Keith Findleys' paper). As I conclude in my article, 'existing confession studies... were made in the absence of an appropriate level of consideration of research into interrogation methods and false confessions. As a result of these omissions, current confession studies are not fit for purpose, if their purpose is to provide an evidentiary basis for Shaken Baby Syndrome.'

The comprehensive Swedish review found that there is no science that links the triad of brain injuries to shaking. Yet the experts in the Joby Rowe case simply refused to accept the findings of the review. They refused to even accept that the review provided reasonable doubt. As though the comprehensive Swedish report, and it's highly credentialed authors, are unreasonable. 

[1] Wells J, Mother weeps as alleged baby killer’s trial begins Bendigo Advertiser, March 16 2017

[2] Wells J, Pathologist testifies in child homicide trial, Bendigo Advertiser, March 22 2017

[3] Le, J Baby girl had 'shaking' injuries: experts July 16, 2016;See also Australian Associated Press, Joby Rowe faces court for allegedly killing his daughter JULY 15, 2016

[4] Wells J, Mother weeps as alleged baby killer’s trial begins Bendigo Advertiser, March 16 2017

[5] Australian Associated Press, Father, 26, denies killing his three- month-old daughter - but her injuries 'are a smoking gun for shaken baby syndrome', Daily Mail, 18 July 2018

[6] Wells J, Pathologist testifies in child homicide trial, Bendigo Advertiser, March 22 2017

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