Giddens hearing stretches into night

Date: 2006-02-26

By Matt Smith/Staff writer

An adversarial hearing to determine the fate of David Michael and Latresa Giddens’ adopted 9-year-old daughter stretched late into Friday night. The child is in an undisclosed foster home.

Judge C.C. ‘Kit’ Cooke, sitting in for Judge Wayne Bridewell in the 249th District Court, adjourned the proceedings about 10 p.m. with no decision having been made. Testimony on the matter resumes at 8 a.m. Monday.

David Michael Giddens, 42, was arrested on a charge of injury to a child by omission, resulting in death Feb. 10 after his soon-to-be adopted son may have died under his care. Cleburne police Sgt. Amy Knoll said Giddens was charged with injury by omission for failing to seek medical attention after he had knowledge of the infant’s injuries.

The deceased infant, 3-month-old Nicholas Rhea Hoffert, was one of the twin boys the Giddens family were adopting, Knoll said. The twins were born Nov. 19 in Michigan and brought to Cleburne Christmas Eve by the Giddens family.

Following Nicholas’ death, an examination of the other twin, Gary Michael Hoffert, revealed seven broken ribs, leg fractures and bruises.

Dr. Daniel Oshman, a pediatric radiologist with Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth, testified Friday about Gary’s X-rays.

“Absolutely,” Oshman said when asked if he believed Gary was a victim of child abuse.

Oshman said the injuries were not indicative of the type associated with an accident, such as a fall or automobile accident, when question by Dick Turner, the attorney representing Giddens.

Oshman went on to tell Shelly Fowler, an attorney representing the interests of the children, that he had no idea who caused the injuries, just that, in his opinion, someone abused the child. Oshman answered yes when Cooke asked whether his diagnostic findings were in line with battered child syndrome.

Dr. Melissa Garrottson, pediatric emergency physician at Cook’s Hospital, testified about bruising on the back and left shin she observed while examining Gary. She called the findings, “non-accidental trauma consistent with child abuse.”

Garrottson said she learned Gary’s twin had died the day before and that the father had admitted hurting the deceased twin, which was why she was called on to check Gary for signs of injury or abuse.

Garrottson also testified that Gary’s injuries were likely not the result of a fall or rolling over his twin brother.

“Two-month-old babies don’t generally bruise themselves because they don’t move around much at that age,” Garrottson said when asked why she didn’t believe Gary’s injuries were accidental. “They don’t sit or crawl or do too much at that age. There’s nothing accidental I could come up with that would have caused these bruises.”

Before moving into the adversarial hearing regarding the 9-year-old girl, Cooke accepted a motion to grant the entering of a foreign judgment from Michigan. Since the adoption was not complete at the time the incidents occurred, Michigan is still the ward of and had prior jurisdiction over the twins. Under the order, Nicholas’ remains will be returned to Michigan for burial. Gary will also return to Michigan for placement in a foster home or adoption.

The second matter of Friday’s hearing was to determine temporary custody of the girl. Assistant County Attorneys Jim Simpson and Whitney Clotfelter argued for her to remain in foster care. Doug Wright, attorney for Latresa Giddens, argued that the child should be returned to her mother as the girl has special needs, which her mother attends to.

Wright also argued that the girl has regressed since placement in foster care and that, with David Giddens out of the picture, there would be no danger in returning the girl to her mother. Giddens is currently being held at the Johnson County Corrections Center on a bail of $150,000.

Although dispensation of Giddens’ case will be a separate legal matter, he did appear in court Friday.

Scott Cain, attorney for Kathy Struvey, David Giddens’ sister, argued for the court to grant her temporary custody.

“Both Texas and federal law favor a presumption that children ought to be with a family member over foster care,” Cain said. “The crucial issue for the court today is to decide what is in the best interest of [the 9-year-old girl].”

Cain said other hearings to determine permanent custody of the girl will take place after the court determines her temporary custody.

Testimony began at 1:30 p.m. Friday. Court broke for dinner about 5 p.m. and resumed at 6:30. Texas Department of Family and Protective Services Investigator Marty Samaniego was on the stand when Cooke adjourned proceedings for the day about 10 p.m. without reaching a decision regarding the girl’s temporary custody.

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