An Oregon City babysitter facing the charge of murdering a 7-month-old boy told police that he choked on a Gerber puff before she gave him five back blows in an unsuccessful attempt to clear his airway.

GILLEN FAMILY - Izaak is remembered as 'an inquisitive and curious little boy, who explored the world with a twinkle in his eyes and a smile on his face.'Meanwhile, prosecutors say that Sarah Elizabeth Martin, 38, inflicted assault in the first degree, meaning she knowingly caused serious physical injury to Izaak Gillen while he was in her care. State medical examiner Dr. Cliff Nelson’s autopsy at Randall Children’s Hospital, called “the gold standard of medical diagnosis,” found sheared nerves in Izaak’s spinal cord in addition to Izaak’s optic nerve. Injuries consistent with head trauma found by Nelson include a skull fracture, bruising and hemorrhaging.

CCSO - MartinMartin’s defense is arguing that the medical establishment’s “full force of the fervor to rush to judgement and [to] land on abuse” was inappropriately and incorrectly directed at Martin. Defense attorney Shannon Kmetic is suggesting that Izaak’s death could have been the result of a botched intervention by medical personnel responding to Martin’s 911 call.

“This baby was a minute or two from Willamette Falls Hospital,” Kmetic said. “I don’t know why the decision was made to transport him to Emanuel,” a hospital in Portland 20 minutes away.

After meeting the Gillen family at a church just south of Oregon City, Martin had babysat for Izaak since December 2014. Martin was also caring for her own 9-month-old child at the time of Izaak’s death, but no other adults were present at Martin’s home in Oregon City.

Trial to extend into May

 GILLEN FAMILY - Izaak GillenIzaak died on April 6, 2015, and on Tuesday, the trial for began before Clackamas County Circuit Court presiding judge Robert D. Herndon. Martin has been held without bail since her second arrest on May 6, when Oregon City investigators decided to bump the severity of the charges up from first-degree manslaughter.

Prior to the trial, Clackamas County deputies led Martin into the courtroom on April 19, 2016; she was wearing chains and the black-and-white-striped prison uniform. Because Martin was cold in the courtroom’s air-conditioning, Herndon allowed her manacles to be removed so she could wear a black cardigan sweater during the trial; he ordered that her leg shackles remain on.

Herndon opened the proceedings by asking Martin repeatedly whether Kmetic had made her aware of her rights. Martin had waived her right the a jury trial, meaning that Herndon will be deciding the case himself.

Defendants typically waive their right to a jury when they believe that the issues of the trial are terrible enough as to influence the jurors into seeking punishment regardless of the evidence. After the prosecution’s last witness on April 25, Martin’s witnesses are scheduled through May 2 in Herndon’s bench trial.

During opening statements on April 19, prosecutors laid out their case first, detailing the “medical proof” of Izaak’s death by Martin’s hands. In the days following Izaak’s death, several pediatric physicians found evidence of traumatic injury in the baby’s eyes and bruising below the scalp. Dr. Shawn Goodman found extensive retinal hemorrhaging “100 percent consistent with trauma.”

However, Kmetic pointed out that Martin and Izaak’s mom, Stacey Gillen, communicated almost daily about feeding issues.

“My client’s reaction to this event, as you’ll hear on the 911 tape, is what you’d expect from an event that is catastrophic,” Kmetic said.

Martin’s trial corresponds with Reset Films’ documentary alleging the over-diagnosis of “Shaken Baby Syndrome” in cases of suspected infant abuse. “The Syndrome” was released this month to theaters in Los Angeles, Detroit and New York City after over a year on the film-festival circuit.

Drs. Steven C. Gabaeff, who appears in “The Syndrome,” will be testifying on behalf of Martin’s defense, detailing cases of mistaken convictions based on well-meaning people drawing the wrong conclusions about Shaken Baby Syndrome. Gabaeff is a California physician who has specialized in child-abuse cases, and is a member of the Los Angeles Superior Court Expert Witness Panel. 

Kmetic told Herndon that the judge would have to completely disregard Gabaeff’s evidence in order to convict Martin.

Timeline of events

In the smart-phone era, Kmetic and prosecutors can easily agree on a general timeline of events.

Around 6 a.m. on April 6, Isaak awoke and was fed by Stacey Gillen, who dropped him off at Martin’s house around 8 a.m. That morning, Martin did some chores around the house and Isaak took a nap.

Between noon and 12:45 p.m. Martin sent Gillian photographs and a video showing Izaak happily playing with the Gerber puffs, which are designed to dissolve in the mouth of infants without teeth.

When Gillian texted Martin asking whether he was eating the puffs, Martin responded at 12:50 p.m., “He’s more playing with them…having fun today.”

Minutes later something went terribly wrong, and Martin called 911 at 1:06 p.m.

Clackamas Fire paramedic Josh Tyler was on scene from the Hilltop station four minutes later to begin treatment for Izaak. Assisted by firefighter Eric Eidam, who has 15 years of experience as a paramedic with pediatric life-support training, Tyler initially treated Izaak with back blows upon hearing from Martin about suspected choking.

First responders are trained to take the word of 911 callers at “face value.” Tyler’s testimony about his initial treatment for Izaak stands against the defense’s case that medical teams rushed to the judgment of suspected abuse.

Three fire trucks responded to the scene due to the severity of the case. The first responders are testifying that their successful intubation of Izaak’s windpipe should have resolved his trouble, if he had indeed been choking. However, they found that Izaak had fixed, dilated pupils indicative of head trauma.

While the paramedic/firefighters attempted to revive Izaak, Clackamas Fire Capt. Curtis Guttman talked with Martin nearby. Seeing six paramedics surrounding Izaak, Guttman expressed his worry about Izaak to Martin.

“I shook the baby; I shook the baby,” Martin reportedly then told Guttman.

Guttman, another 15-year firefighting veteran, was surprised that Martin made the statement and reported the disturbing words to police after he went home from his shift.

“You’d think those statements would be immediately communicated to law enforcement if they were so outrageous,” Kmetic said.

However, Guttman said he initially assumed that Martin was talking about giving Izaak back blows to clear his blocked airway and only later began to suspect the significance of the suspicious statement.

OCPD Det. Matt Lysaght interviewed Martin three times and said that she changed her story about what happened to Izaak each time. Other police detectives downloaded Martin’s phone to discover that she searched dozens of times for web information regarding shaking babies and only searched for choking a few times in the days following Izaak’s death.

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