Account Disputed In Baby's Death The Infant Son Of Amy Grossberg And Brian C. Peterson Died Of Head Injuries, A Coroner Said.

Posted: July 11, 1998

WILMINGTON — The baby of Amy Grossberg and Brian C. Peterson was severely beaten and shaken before he was thrown in a trash bin and died, a medical examiner said yesterday.

In an interview, Adrienne Sekula-Perlman, who performed the autopsy, took issue with the contention of Grossberg's defense lawyer that the baby's skull was fractured after death.

Grossberg and Peterson, unwed teens from an affluent North Jersey suburb whose case drew national attention, began serving prison terms Thursday for causing the death of their child. The baby was born in secret in a Delaware motel room in 1996; Peterson then disposed of the boy in the trash bin.

At their sentencing hearing Thursday on manslaughter charges, defense attorneys and prosecutors bitterly disagreed over whether the skull fractures were caused before or after the baby died.

There was no swelling of the brain and no hemorrhaging, Grossberg's Beverly Hills attorney, Robert K. Tanenbaum, insisted.

``The defense is wrong,'' Sekula-Perlman, Delaware's deputy chief medical examiner, said in an interview yesterday. ``This baby died because of severe head trauma that was caused before he was put in the trash.''

There was bleeding, she said, adding: ``I have the pictures to prove it.''

Tanenbaum was correct, she said, that the brain did not swell. But that does not happen in newborns, she said.

The baby had at least eight injuries that Sekula-Perlman said were not caused by birth trauma or by being thrown at least 12 feet into a trash bin. There were hemorrhaging behind the eyes, indicating the baby had been severely shaken; three skull fractures, most likely caused by beatings; and bruises, she said.

And, she concluded, the baby was placed in the trash bag alive. She estimated the full-term child, weighing 6.2 pounds, survived from 15 minutes to two hours.

Peterson and Grossberg, both 20, pleaded guilty to manslaughter earlier this year. Given the evidence, prosecutor Peter Letang said last night, the plea bargain was the best way to resolve the case.

On the question of who may have injured the child, Letang said, ``There are proof problems. You've got to prove beyond a reasonable doubt.''

Peterson, Letang said, left the motel room briefly. There's no question the child was traumatized, but prosecutors had no way to prove who caused the trauma and exactly how the baby was injured, he said. Superior Court Judge Henry duPont Ridgely, who had access to the full findings of the medical examiner, sentenced Grossberg to 2 1/2 years in prison and Peterson to two years. Peterson had been the first to cooperate with prosecutors and tell them what happened Nov. 12, 1996, when Grossberg gave birth.

During the sentencing hearing, Delaware prosecutors Letang and Paul Wallace graphically detailed what happened after Grossberg called Peterson from the University of Delaware, where she was a freshman. Her water broke and he rushed 80 miles from Gettysburg College to help her.

He begged her, prosecutors said, to give up their secret and go to a hospital for help. Instead, they checked into the Comfort Inn in Newark, where a difficult labor ensued.

As the night went on, Grossberg's condition worsened. Tanenbaum said she suffered from eclampsia, a form of high blood pressure related to pregnancies that can be fatal for the mother and child.

Peterson told prosecutors his girlfriend was ``out of it,'' as she convulsed during a seizure, her hands flapping at her sides. When the baby arrived, prosecutors said, Peterson described a lifeless child with a blue complexion whom he thought was dead.

When Grossberg told him, ``Get rid of it,'' Peterson told authorities, he ran to his car and returned immediately to the room where he placed the child in a plastic bag. Then he went outside and tossed the body 12 feet into a Dumpster.

Even with Peterson's cooperation, prosecutors said, they still don't know what happened in the motel room that caused the baby's skull fractures.

The prison sentences are appropriate, some legal and medical experts said.

``The sentencing seems to reinforce the need to send a message that this is totally inappropriate behavior that society won't tolerate,'' said Lawrence Connell, a law professor at Widener University.

Considering some of the details released Thursday that had previously been undisclosed, Connell said Grossberg and Peterson received appropriate punishment. Prosecutors read from letters Grossberg wrote to Peterson. ``All I want is for it to go away. I can't get caught,'' she wrote.

``It's pretty apparent that it wasn't a question of denial. It was complete self interest,'' Connell said. ``The sense I had was even up to the last moment, Peterson encouraged her to seek medical treatment and she refused for self interest.''

The letters, said Neil Kaye, a nationally recognized expert in infanticide, show how Grossberg viewed the pregnancy.

``The letters clearly recognize that the pregnancy was an object to her,'' Kaye said. ``She doesn't describe the baby kicking inside of her. She views the baby as an `it.' ''

Kaye said that it appeared that the judge put much thought into the sentencing and stayed within sentencing guidelines.

``I don't believe that she's callous and uncaring if you look at other areas of her life,'' Kaye said. ``But it's clear she never bonded with this baby.''

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