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Emotional father denies shaking infant son violently

The defense's expert medical witness says a subdural hematoma, not shaken baby syndrome, was the cause of death.

By ALEXANDRA ZAYAS
Published March 9, 2006


TAMPA - Anibal Angel Rios had remained composed throughout his trial this week in Hillsborough Circuit Court, but he choked up Wednesday when he spoke of the infant son he is accused of fatally shaking.

Rios, 21, testified in his own behalf Wednesday.

He said he had been a surrogate father to his two younger siblings, and helped his girlfriend Jacqueline Santiago, 26, care for her two children. In 2003, when he was 19, he learned that the baby Santiago had just given birth to was his. He said he was exhilarated to be a father.

And he was determined to be a good one.

"I didn't want to run out on his life like my father did to me," Rios said, his voice cracking. "I just wanted to be there."

He quit his job to care for the baby and Santiago's two other children full time. The dirty diapers, nightly feedings and the baby's crying didn't bother him, he said.

"I loved him," Rios said. "That's my son."

But Rios was charged with first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse after his 3-month-old son Victor Smith died on Christmas Eve 2003. Authorities say the child died of shaken baby syndrome. Rios told a different story.

He said he needed to shower, so he placed Victor on a pallet of blankets and pillows to watch him. Victor began to cry.

Rios jumped out of the shower and quickly picked the baby up underneath its armpits, and the baby's head rolled back, he said. Victor stopped crying. He wasn't breathing.

"I know I picked him up quick, but I didn't pick him up quick to hurt him," Rios said. "I just picked him up quick to hold him in my arms and get him to stop crying."

Rios denied violently shaking the baby.

Dr. Ronald Uscinski, a Maryland neurosurgeon who testified as an expert witness for the defense, cast doubt on the shaken baby accusation, saying there was no damage to Victor's neck, and no grab marks on his body.

Doctors for the prosecution have testified that neither need to exist to prove a baby was shaken.

Uscinski thinks the baby died of a subdural hematoma, an accumulation of blood in the tissue around the brain, that could have occurred as early as birth. The collection of blood on the surface of the baby's brain was evidence of a chronic condition that could have been aggravated independently of Rios, he said.

Uscinski, who has testified for the defense in shaken baby cases across the nation, said he thinks subdural hematoma is often confused for shaken baby syndrome.

The trial is expected to end today. The case was originally heard in May 2005, but ended in a mistrial when the jury failed to arrive at a verdict.

Alexandra Zayas can be reached at 813 226-3354 or azayas@sptimes.com

[Last modified March 9, 2006, 02:45:12]


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