Ronald Lewis

Delaware County, Pennsylvania
Date of Alleged Crime:  March 2, 1998

Ronald Winston Lewis was convicted of murdering his 5-month old son, Shirron Lewis, by shaking him.  Shirron had been born premature and required a breathing monitor and as many as 10 medications to survive.  Lewis and Shirron's mother, Jackie Allen, had already lost another child, Darius Lewis, to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome when he was nine days old.  Darius was born with a heart defect.  Shirron reportedly had seizures after he was born and Allen wondered if the hospital released him too soon.  Lewis is the father of at least nine children.

Lewis called 911 about 2 p.m. on Mar. 2, 1998 when an alarm for the Shirron's breathing monitor sounded and his son was unresponsive.  Lewis was charged with attempted murder nine months later after doctors, using information from the monitor's tapes, say Shirron's body was “forcefully manipulated, most likely shaken” around 12:20 p.m. on Mar. 2 at his Perkins Street home in Chester.  Shirron suffered bleeding inside the brain, gastrointestinal bleeding and had a small abrasion on his forehead. He also had hemorrhaging behind both eyes, police said.  Shirron narrowly missed qualification for brain death according to one affidavit.  He remained on life support with little or no chance for recovery.

A court-appointed child advocate, attorney Barbara Scarlata, sought to remove all artificial life-support for Shirron and let him die, maintaining it was in Shirron's best interests.  Allen was opposed to discontinuing life support on religious grounds.  But she also suspected that Scarlata was aligned with the Delaware County District Attorney's office.  The DA “will be waiting to charge Shirron's father with murder” as soon as the plug is pulled, said Allen.  An assistant DA agreed that Lewis would be charged, although he denied it would be a motivating factor to remove Shirron from life support.

The charges against Lewis were supported by an affidavit from a St. Christopher's Hospital physician: “To a reasonable degree of medical certainty, it is the expert medical opinion of Dr. Russell Clayton Sr. that the injuries suffered by Shirron Lewis were not accidental, and not self-inflicted and were cause as a result of child abuse.”

An unnamed prison informant was reportedly willing to testify that Lewis confessed to shaking the baby.  Even Lewis did not dispute that his son was violently shaken, but said he wasn't the one who hurt Shirron.  A babysitter was at Lewis's house around the time Shirron's monitor recorded the alleged shaking, although Lewis did not specifically blame her.  Lewis was charged with first degree murder after Shirron died on his own in Jan. 2000.  Rather than face possible life imprisonment in the event of a conviction for first-degree murder, Lewis entered a no contest plea for third degree murder.  He was sentenced to 12 1/2 to 25 years in prison.

Biomechanical studies done in 1987 and again in 2003 have shown that the shaking of a baby by a human adult can at most generate 11 g's of acceleration.  This acceleration has been shown to be insufficient to injure normal babies, except possibly to the neck or spine if the baby's head rotates in relation to his body.  Such neck or spine injuries are reportedly rarely seen in alleged shaken baby cases.  By contrast, a collision of a baby with an external object, such during a short fall from a chair, can generate 500 g's of acceleration.  Unlike alleged shaking injuries, collision injuries are far more difficult to prove in criminal proceedings, as they require an external site of injury and proof that the injury is non-accidental.  The shaking hypothesis is convenient as it allows one to shift the burden of proof to the defendant.

Not much is known about whether shaking is more likely to damage unhealthy babies or those with birth defects, so assertions of shaking damage to such babies is unproven.  Much has been written on the existence of Shaken Baby Syndrome by medical experts who fail to understand or seriously address the central question of whether SBS is mechanically possible.  Mechanical questions lie outside the field of medical expertise.

It would appear that Shirron's injuries could not have been caused by shaking and that the alleged shaking recorded by his breathing monitor was actually a seizure accompanied by strokes.  Shirron's abdominal bleeding would not seem possible even according to theories promoted by SBS advocates.  Shirron's birth defects and evidence that a brother, Darius, had genetic defects, show a commonality with babies in other alleged SBS cases, particularly with the those in the Tennessee case of Andy Houser.  Such evidence provides an alternate explanation for such injuries.   [4/09]

References:  Delaware County Daily Times, Biomechanics of SBS

Posted in:  Victims of the State, Eastern Pennsylvania Cases, Shaken Baby Syndrome, Son/Daughter Murder Cases