Q. Do you believe another person caused the injuries that Bryan Thompson IV had?

A. That they were intentionally caused by another person, no.

– Dr Riddick testifying in Tasha’s Post Conviction Relief hearing (2018)

On the 18th of June 2018, over 21 years after his death, little Bryan’s death certificate was changed. No longer did it list ‘homicide’ as the cause of death, but little Bryan’s death was instead marked as accidental.

Dr Riddick, the pathologist who conducted little Bryan’s autopsy in 1997, changed the death certificate to reflect new evidential findings and changed understanding of Shaken Baby Syndrome (“SBS”) that had since arisen.  

Central to Dr Riddick’s change of opinion was evidence that little Bryan’s injuries were caused by a cascade of events involving a shortfall, inability to breathe, and a seizure. Dr Riddick detailed the evidence he relied upon in a Post-Conviction Relief hearing (“PCR”) in 2018.

That evidence is as follows:

Little Bryan’s amended death certificate

Observed behaviours

In the weeks leading up to his death, little Bryan was observed by multiple people (including Tasha, Tasha’s grandmother Honey, and little Bryan’s father big Bryan) displaying behaviours such as staring into space and rolling his eyes.

Tasha considered that little Bryan’s development was regressing. She describes him as forgetting how to do things he had already learnt, such as using his knife and fork. Tasha had shared her concerns with Honey Schalk, describing little Bryan’s development as slow.

Tasha and Honey’s language to describe little Bryan’s development is now outdated and offensive. However, at the time of the trial, this was a largely accepted term to describe impacted neurological development.  

We have included them here as they demonstrate the concerns that Tasha had for little Bryan’s neurological development.

A: [Tasha] said that she felt like she was dealing with a retarded child because he was very slow and didn’t know back from front or front from back or side right to left, and he still wasn’t potty trained and stuff

– Honey testifying in the original trial (2000)

Tasha had also documented everything she observed with little Bryan’s development in a journal. When the police raided her home following little Bryan’s death, this journal was taken as evidence. This journal and its contents have never been recovered nor documented. It is assumed to have been destroyed for unknown reasons.

These accounts of little Bryan’s observed behaviours were never shared with the medical experts.

Q. […] did any of the doctors or medical professionals tell you that Bryan Thompson had been recently observed having seizures?

A. No.

– Dr Riddick testifying in the original trial (2000)

In the 2018 PCR hearing, Dr Riddick stated that these observed behaviours and the family’s concerns for his neurological development were indicative of little Bryan having repeated petit mal seizures in the weeks before his death.

Neurology appointment

Tasha and little Bryan’s father’s concerns for his neurological development grew when a red dot of blood appeared near his cornea. This dot can be seen in a photograph of little Bryan taken on May 17th, 1997.

At this time, little Bryan had not been in Tasha’s care for a few days as she had been in the hospital giving birth to a baby girl. It is unclear who had been caring for him at this time, but the red dot emerged over this period of Tasha’s absence.  

This dot suggests little Bryan had been suffering from an earlier bleed.

A photograph of little Bryan where the red dot can be seen

Seeing this, in combination with the observed behaviours, Tasha and big Bryan took little Bryan to their doctor. An appointment was then arranged to see a neurologist. This was scheduled for a week after little Bryan’s death.  

The medical experts were not informed of this appointment at the time of the trial. Dr Ophoven, a forensic pathologist who also testified at the 2018 PCR hearing, explained how knowledge of this would have informed the medical experts’ cause of death determinations for little Bryan:

A. For me it confirms that there was a concern about a preexisting neurologic symptom or symptoms, that it cannot be ignored in the context of their being observed seizures at the time of his collapse, as well as what I consider to be pretty good description of seizures before fatal event. So for me, a preexisting condition is confirmed.

Dr Ophoven testifying at the PCR hearing (2018)

Family history of seizures

A letter was written by Dr Gorman which detailed two members of little Bryan’s family having different seizure conditions. There is also a document below which shows that the family members were prescribed medication for their seizures.

The contents of this letter were never disclosed to the jury nor the medical experts.

Dr Riddick only became aware of this family history of seizures years later which led him to conclude little Bryan had died as a result of an inherited seizure condition.

Cause of death

Police notes made when questioning Tasha, highlighting how she found Little Bryan having a seizure.

On the night that Little Bryan died, Tasha found him seizing on the floor of his bedroom. This can be seen confirmed by the police notes made when questioning her. She has never given a different story.

Dr Riddick testified in the 2018 PCR hearing that a seizure can produce the same injuries as the ‘triad’ of injuries allegedly indicative of SBS.

Q. You mentioned a triad of injuries. Can this triad of injuries, cerebral edema, subdural hematoma and retinal hemorrhaging, can that have, those injuries, the triad, have causes other than abuse?

A. Yes.

Q. Can a lack of oxygen cause any of these symptoms?

A. It can certainly cause swelling of the brain.

Q. Can seizures cause any of these symptoms?

A. Yes.

Q. And can a short fall cause any of these symptoms?

A. Yes.

– Dr Riddick testifying in Tasha’s Post Conviction Relief hearing (2018)

Dr Riddick’s opinion is that a cascade of events (involving a seizure, breathing difficulties, and a shortfall provides an explanation that better fits with all the facts and little Bryan’s medical history than shaking.

It is the above evidence, in combination with that concerning bruises and the debunking of SBS, that led Dr Riddick to conclude that Tasha did not shake little Bryan to his death.

Had any of the above information been shared with the medical experts at the trial, the outcome of Tasha’s case could have been drastically different.