Man Pleads Guilty In Baby's Death

Posted: May 20, 1998

MOUNT HOLLY — A Maple Shade man has pleaded guilty to manslaughter in connection with the November 1996 death of his infant daughter.

Thomas E. Duff, 28, is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 4 by Burlington County Superior Court Judge Patricia LeBon. He faces five to 10 years in prison.

Duff, a former Burlington County emergency dispatcher, was arrested in December 1996 and charged with murder. He pleaded guilty to the lesser charge on Monday. He has been free on $175,000 bond since his arrest.

Prosecutors said Duff called 911 late in the afternoon of Nov. 4, 1996. Maple Shade police arrived to find 4-month-old Shannon Duff lying on a kitchen table in cardiac arrest. She was taken to Kennedy Memorial Hospital in Cherry Hill, where doctors were able to restore her heartbeat but not her ability to breathe.

The girl was taken to Cooper Hospital-University Medical Center in Camden, where she was taken off life support the next day.

Prosecutors described her death as a case of shaken-baby syndrome. They said Shannon's death was caused by a spinal-cord injury that prevented oxygen from getting to her brain.

Barnaby Whittels, the Philadelphia attorney who represents Duff, said the charges in most shaken-baby cases he has handled have been reduced to manslaughter because of the nature of the cases. Shaken-baby deaths, he said, are rarely intentional and take only a few seconds.

``You have a cacophony of pressures that build on a person and a confluence of events that lead to acting out,'' Whittels said. ``It happens to all of us. If we're fortunate, we yell or kick the wall. . . . If we're unfortunate, we have a baby in our hands.''

On the afternoon of the 911 call, Duff's fiancee and the baby's mother, Colleen McCuster, was at work. Neither she nor Duff could be reached yesterday.

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