MANTECA -- An infant struggled for his life Wednesday as his doctor testified in San Joaquin County Superior Court that his injuries are consistent with having been violently shaken by somebody to the point where his brain bled.
Michael Zamarripa Jr., a 2-month-old with a tuft of soft brown hair and a dimpled chin, arrived at Children's Hospital Central California in Madera County on Sept. 28 with at least nine separate brain injuries, Dr. Donald Fields said Wednesday during a preliminary hearing for the man who was caring for the baby. Fields said it's unclear whether the baby will pull through.
Michael Zamarripa, 25, faces charges of child abuse and corporal injury to a child with great bodily injury.
Deputy District Attorney Valli Israels said she will return with a charge for murder if the baby dies.
"If he survives, and I'm still not sure that he will, I believe he will be neuro-logically devastated," Fields said. "He would need a feeding tube, a tube to breathe and a shunt to remove fluid from his brain. He would have what most people know as cerebral palsy."
Fields said he has treated 50 to 100 victims of so-called shaken baby syndrome, a series of injuries resulting from shaking a baby back and forth, sometimes causing broken bones and hemorrhaging behind the eyes and in the brain. Michael had massive retinal hemorrhaging behind his eyes and in four other areas inside his head.
"What I believe happened is the baby was shaken, causing violent injury to the entire brain," Fields said.
The defendant sat shackled in a red jail jumpsuit during the several hours of preliminary hearing, during which he was warned by the judge and a bail- iff twice not to communicate with witnesses on the stand, including the baby's mother and their roommate.
Mother consults attorney
Judge Franklin M. Stephenson called a recess Wednesday afternoon so the mother, Amy Burgin, 23, could meet with an attorney. During her testimony, she acknowledged using methamphetamine, leading to concerns that she might inadvertently implicate herself in separate crimes by answering questions.
Testimony suggested the couple were involved in drugs. Manteca police Detective Steve Beermann said Burgin told him she ingested methamphetamine the day before the baby was born. Burgin testified that she injected the drug within a day of the time the child was injured and that Zamarripa had been looking to steal something that day in order to pay for drugs.
The couple had been together for two years. Outside the courtroom after the hearing, she said she at first thought Zamarripa was the baby's father, but determined he probably wasn't and told him before the baby was born. She said Zamarripa de- cided he still wanted to raise the baby with her.
She testified that on Sept. 27 she put the baby to bed in a swinging chair about 8 p.m. and left Zamarripa in charge while she went out with a friend. She said she returned about 11 p.m. and the baby was fine, so she left about 10 minutes later. But she received a call about 1:50 a.m. from Zamarripa saying something was wrong.
Roommate saw head bobbing
Their roommate, Robert Platt, said he had come home to find music on and Zamarripa rocking the baby aggressively, making the baby's head bob.
"I asked him, 'What are you doing?' I thought he said, 'Stretching the neck,' " Platt, 53, said. "I walked out of the room into the kitchen and repeated it to myself and it didn't make sense."
He said he had once found Zamarripa playing with the baby by throwing him in the air and had chided him.
"He stopped when I asked him and told him he can't be doing that with such a small baby. He seemed to realize he was wrong and I was right, and he said it wouldn't happen again," Platt said. "I believe he apologized."
Burgin said she, too, had told Zamarripa he had to support the baby's neck.
Zamarripa told Beermann he had been ordered at some time in the past to take a 52-week child care class, the detective testified. They met at the hospital where, he said, Zamarripa told him earlier in the night that he had played with the baby by throwing him up in the air six inches to a foot and then fed the baby by positioning the baby on his legs while lying on a futon on the floor. He fell asleep and woke up to a thud to find the baby had fallen onto the floor.
Police measured the top of the futon at about seven inches from the floor. Zamarripa told police the baby was making weird noises for 20 to 30 minutes and, concerned something was wrong with the baby's neck, he moved the baby up and down, Beermann said while demonstrating a motion similar to the one Platt showed, but supporting the baby's head.
Platt said he got close to the baby and he sounded like he was gasping for air. Zamarripa called Burgin to come home, and she testified the baby was limp like a rag doll.
Bee staff writer Inga Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 599-8760.