Pediatrician tells of boy's suffocation

Date: 2008-06-07

Pediatrician tells of boy's suffocation

By Mandy Locke, Staff Writer

SMITHFIELD - A forensic pediatrician told jurors Friday about the agony 4-year-old Sean Paddock must have endured in the moments before he died.

Sean Paddock suffocated in February 2006 after he was wrapped so tightly in blankets that he couldn't breathe. Lynn Paddock, his adoptive mother, is on trial on a charge of first-degree murder in his death.

Dr. Sharon Cooper, a forensic pediatrician from Fayetteville, told jurors that Sean must have been terrified and would have panicked and hyperventilated. He likely thrashed his body, further hampering the flow of oxygen to his brain, she said.

Cooper testified that Sean eventually lost consciousness but might have lived for four minutes or more before his heart finally stopped. He could have lived, she said, if the blankets had been unwrapped and someone had performed CPR.

Ron Ford Sr. -- the biological grandfather of Sean and his siblings, Hannah and David -- sighed and leaned back against a courtroom bench as Cooper described Sean's death. Ford came to court for the first time Friday. He said he had stayed away, fearing he couldn't stomach the details about the life his grandchildren said they lived at the Paddocks' remote Smithfield farmhouse.

Ford has filed a lawsuit against the state, Wake County Human Services and Children's Home Society, the private agency that placed his grandchildren with the Paddocks. He said he's seeking answers as to why they ended up with the Paddocks.

Sean's relatives had tried to figure out how to keep the children. They had lived for several months with Ron and Leanne Ford, a paternal aunt and uncle, after they were taken away from their biological parents. Wake social workers had determined that Sean and his siblings had been neglected and one of the children had been abused by their biological parents.

The Fords struggled financially to support their own three children, plus Sean, Hannah and David. They asked Wake Human Services to put the children in foster care until they could figure out their finances. The children were introduced to the Paddocks little more than a year later.

Ford saw his oldest grandson, David, at a supermarket in Clayton two months ago. David, now 11, has been adopted by a new family. He asked his grandpa, "You know Sean died, right?"

Earlier, Cooper testified that the youngest of Paddock's adopted children were starved in the Paddock home. Hannah, David and Kayla Paddock have been gaining weight since they left the home, Cooper said.

At the time of Sean's death, Hannah was 7, Kayla was 8, and David was 9. In the past two years, Hannah has gained 28 pounds, more than four times the weight gain doctors expect to see for a child of her age. Kayla gained 19 pounds, and David picked up 14 pounds.

Prosecutors contend that Paddock engaged in torture of her six adopted children.

Typically, a jury must find that a defendant premeditated a killing to be guilty of murder in the first degree. Prosecutors are not saying that Paddock calculated Sean's death. Instead, they have suggested that they will ask the jury to find her guilty of first-degree murder through a more unusual legal theory: murder by torture.

Paddock would spend the rest of her life in prison if a jury finds her guilty of first-degree murder.

Defense attorneys grilled Cooper about how much she was being paid for her testimony in this case. She is being paid for the medical exams she performed on the Paddock's children and the time she is spending on court, she said. Experts are often reimbursed for the time they spend consulting on criminal cases.

Paddock's attorneys have strongly objected to Cooper's testimony and have complained to a judge that the doctor didn't turn over all the medical studies upon which she based her opinion. On Thursday and Friday, they asked a judge to declare a mistrial, saying that Cooper was testifying beyond the scope of the discovery provided to them before the trial.

mandy.locke@newsobserver.com or (919) 829-8927

SEPTEMBER 2001: Sean Ford is born; Wake County Human Services is involved with the infant's family after investigating reports that Sean's father, Dwayne Ford, was abusively disciplining his stepson.

DECEMBER 2002: Sean's day-care teacher called social workers when the infant arrived shivering, his lips blue from the cold. Social workers found no heat in the home; Sean's uncle, Ron Ford Jr., takes in the children but has to give them up six months later when finances become too strained.

MARCH 2003: Sean's father is charged with abusing the boy's siblings. (Dwayne Ford later pleads guilty. He is put on probation and ordered to stay away from the children.)

JUNE 2003: Sean and his siblings move into a Wake County foster home.

SEPTEMBER 2004: After several attempts to reunite the children with their birth mother, social workers give up, and they are legally severed from her care. The children are available for adoption.

OCTOBER 2004: Children's Home Society lines up Johnny and Lynn Paddock, a Johnston County couple who have adopted three other foster children through the private agency, to adopt the Ford children.

JANUARY 2005: Sean and his siblings first visit the Paddocks' farm outside Smithfield. Sean returns from the weekend visit with a bruise on his backside. Lynn Paddock said he fell off a bunk bed. He and his siblings said Paddock whipped him for playing with the family dog.

FEBRUARY 2005: Social workers conclude that Sean tumbled from the bunk bed and the Ford children resume their visits to the Paddock farm.

JULY 2005: The adoption is completed.

FEBRUARY 2006: Sean suffocates after being tightly bundled in blankets. Investigators determine Lynn Paddock has been spanking the children with plastic plumbing supply line. Lynn Paddock is charged with first-degree murder and child abuse. She has been in the Johnston County jail since.

FEBRUARY 2008: Sean’s biological grandparents sue the Paddocks, the state Department of Health and Human Services, Wake County Human Services and private adoption agency Children’s Home Society for the boy’s death. Ron Ford Sr. wants to learn how the agencies failed to protect Sean. The suit is still pending.

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