ACCUSED MOM SAYS SON FELL, HIT HIS HEAD

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Date: 2003-02-28

ACCUSED MOM SAYS SON FELL, HIT HIS HEAD
Two experts say Sarah Allen's explanation `was inconsistent with' the injuries that killed her 22-month-old boy.

Author: TESS NACELEWICZ Staff Writer

A Lisbon Falls woman charged with fatally shaking her adopted son told police the child fell and struck his head several times accidentally before losing consciousness, court records show.

Police allege that Sarah Allen shook 22-month-old Nathaniel Jacob Allen so violently that the child suffered massive head and neck injuries that caused him to go into a coma and die the next day. The toddler's body also bore several bruises, including a large one apparently caused by his adoptive father's spanking him with a wooden spatula, police say.

The details of the child's Feb. 15 death were revealed in a Maine State Police affidavit filed Thursday in Lewiston District Court. The affidavit outlines the case against Allen, 29, who is free on $25,000 bail after being charged this week with manslaughter in the death of her son.

She is scheduled to appear at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday in Lewiston District Court. She faces up to 40 years in prison if convicted.

Her lawyer, Verne Paradie of Auburn, said Allen - who has no criminal record and no history with state child protective services - denies causing the death of her son. She and her husband, Jeremy Allen, adopted the boy from Guatemala last April. They called him Nathaniel because the name means "gift from God," a friend said.

"She maintains her innocence," Paradie said. "I firmly believe she's innocent. . . . We will show when she has her day in court that the facts are not what they say they are."

But the police affidavit alleges that the story Allen told authorities about how her son was injured is not believable given the severe brain injuries that led to the child's death.

In addition, the affidavit says the boy's adoptive father told police he had seen his wife "manhandle" Nathaniel previously. Jeremy Allen, who was in New Hampshire on business on Feb. 14, the day the boy was injured, also told police that he spanked the toddler three times on his bare bottom with a wooden utensil the previous day, the affidavit says.

Among the child's bruises was a large one, covering nearly 5 inches, on his thigh and buttock, consistent with repeated impact by an object, the affidavit says.

According to the affidavit, written by Maine State Police Detective Herbert Leighton, Sarah Allen called 911 from her home at 6 Lincoln St. at about 10 p.m. on Valentine's Day because Nathaniel was unconscious.

Allen told authorities the child had fallen down in the bathtub about three hours earlier while she was bathing him, hitting his head hard twice. She said the toddler hit his head hard several other times over a period of about two hours, the affidavit says.

"Sarah told us that on the final fall, Nathaniel was standing on the floor in his bedroom when her hip brushed by his arm as she rushed by him while headed to the bathroom," Leighton wrote. "As a result, Nathaniel fell directly down onto his head, resulting in unconsciousness."

According to the affidavit, Allen agreed to be filmed the next day by another police detective, re-enacting what she said happened to her son. But Leighton wrote that two doctors who saw the videotape, Dr. Lawrence Ricci, a child abuse expert, and Dr. Michael Ferenc, the state's deputy chief medical examiner, agreed that "the explanation provided by Sarah Allen . . . was inconsistent with and could not have caused the severe central nervous system injuries found."

According to the affidavit, both doctors said the force necessary to cause such injuries "would be characteristic of very violent shaking, possibly with impacts of the head, of the child by another person."

In addition to bleeding behind the eyes and brain swelling, the affidavit says that the boy's injuries included bruises on his thigh and buttock, his eyelids, cheeks, the back of his ears, his wrist and back.

According to Leighton, Sarah Allen told authorities that "Nathaniel falls on a frequent basis, bruising his face and constantly cutting his lips and tongue."

She also said that she was with her son all day on Feb. 14, and except for going out to Marden's and Denny's restaurant with him, was alone at home with him until she called 911. The affidavit says that she told authorities the boy's behavior that day was normal and the two had "a very good day" and were "dancing and singing" to music at Denny's at approximately 3 p.m.

Police have seized a videotape of customers coming and going at the Denny's restaurant on Court Street in Auburn on the day in question, assistant manager Marcel Deschaines said. But neither Deschaines nor any of his staff remember seeing Allen and her son.

Jeremy Allen is a Navy enlisted man stationed at Brunswick Naval Air Station, according to spokesman John James. Allen also has a job working for EcoQuest International, a Tennessee-based company that manufactures and markets air and water purification systems, according to the affidavit. Jeremy Allen was at a trade show in New Hampshire connected with his job for EcoQuest on Feb. 14, according to the affidavit.

The affidavit says he told police he was still in New Hampshire that evening when his wife called him, "hysterical" because their son had fallen.

Friends and neighbors painted contrasting images of Sarah Allen.

Bruce Willson, co-director of Hope House, a pregnancy and single-mother support center in Lewiston, said Allen was a volunteer there. He said she "was very gentle with the kids," including her own son, who always accompanied her.

Willson said he still considers her a volunteer because he believes the charge against her will prove untrue.

Willson said the center sometimes gets children whose behavior is difficult to handle, but he said Nathaniel was not like that. Nathaniel - "a cute little dude" who was friendly but somewhat shy of other children - liked to sit on his mother's lap, so much so it was hard to coax him off, Willson said.

"He was very willing to be held and cuddled and he liked mom the best," Willson said. Nathaniel was not yet talking much but seemed to understand most of what was said to him, Willson said.

A neighbor of the Allens said Thursday that he saw different behavior with the boy, however.

Ryan Conner, 17, said the Allens moved in last winter, before they adopted Nathaniel. He said he saw Sarah Allen lift the boy up by his shoulders and shake him last summer, saying, "Why can't you walk? You're so slow!"

Staff Writer Josie Huang contributed to this report

Staff Writer Tess Nacelewicz can be contacted at 791- 6367 or at:

tnacelewicz@pressherald.com

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