It’s been close on seven years since Michael, then not quite three months old, was admitted to hospital with a bruised and swollen left eye (noses108&121). A month later, on 11 November 2003, the four-month-old tot was readmitted to Johannesburg General Hospital. He was now permanently blind, with fresh bruises on his face and irreversible brain damage.
As recounted in nose108, Baby Michael’s parents, Malinda Marshall and Bradley Connor, both aged only 18 at the time, were the prime suspects. Connor almost escaped trial for attempted murder by some adroit juggling of the legal system. On the advice of his advocate, Norman Leibowitz, Malinda Marshall pleaded guilty to assaulting her baby and while she was on remand awaiting sentence the father pleaded guilty (in a plea-bargain deal) to the slap-on-the-wrist offence of not feeding Michael or taking him to hospital for medical treatment. For this he received a two-year suspended prison sentence. The mother then changed her plea to not guilty and when the state tried to recharge Connor he argued he had already been convicted and couldn’t be tried twice.
In September 2008 Acting Judge Makume dismissed Connor’s argument in the South Gauteng (Johannesburg) High Court. And last October, after countless postponements, the trial of both parents on a charge of attempted murder finally started in a Johannesburg regional court – only to have the defence once more raise the argument that Connor had already been convicted of an offence relating to the alleged abuse. The magistrate ordered the state to supply a full history of the case.
The trial resumed in March. The proceedings were not reported, but on that occasion two paediatricians testified on Baby Michael’s injuries. Dr Mamathiba said that Michael had been a normal developing infant, but when he examined the baby on 4 October 2003 he had retinal bleeds and facial injuries that were not consistent with the parents’ story that his injuries were caused by a fall from a futon bed.
Dr Judi Rothberg, who examined Michael the following month, on 11 November, said that the baby had severe permanent brain injuries. Petechiae over the baby’s neck area was consistent with throttling. She saw bleeding behind the eyes, for which the most logical explanation was throttling.
Radiologist Dr S Padayachee testified that as a result of Baby Michael’s head injuries brain fluid had increased and pressure on the brain had caused it to shrink – resulting in cerebral palsy.
There was just one more state witness to follow: ophthalmologist Dr Mia. But the court was told that the eye specialist was out of the country until the end of July. Postponed again.
Now the trial of Malinda Marshall and Bradley Connor is set to resume on 8 September. Meanwhile Michael, now seven, continues to be lovingly cared for at Avril Elizabeth, a private residential home for the mentally disabled, in Germiston, where the boy is likely to remain for the rest of his life. His R7,000/month fees are met by the home’s fund-raising programme.
Daily physiotherapy has resulted in a slight improvement in body movement, reports noseweek’s source, and with nine other children of Michael’s age now at the home, the place is “very vibey” with a lot of stimulation. “Michael does smile now and again.”
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