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Doctor describes Craver's injuries to York County jury


Doctor describes Craver's injuries to York County jury

Published: Wednesday, September 07, 2011, 12:11 AM Updated: Thursday, September 08, 2011, 12:25 AM

JEFF FRANTZ, The Patriot-News By JEFF FRANTZ, The Patriot-News


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A York County jury will decide if Michael and Nanette Craver are guilty of killing their 7-year-old son, Nathaniel. The case has garnered international attention since the boy, who was adopted, was born in Russia.

Police say Michael Craver drove his son to Holy Spirit Hospital when he found him unresponsive in his bed Aug. 20, 2009. Nathaniel died Aug. 25. An autopsy revealed the boy had more than 80 external injuries, including 20 to his head.

Prosecutors say the Cravers, of Carroll Twp., inflicted weeks of trauma. The Cravers have said the boy’s alleged tendency to self-mutilate caused his death. The Cravers are charged with homicide, conspiracy and endangering the welfare of a child.

After nearly two hours on the witness stand, Dr. Wayne K. Ross circled his main point.

The Dauphin County forensic pathologist had performed the autopsy on Nathaniel Craver in 2009. He had spent Wednesday morning detailing the injuries he found on the 7-year-old’s body.

Nathaniel’s head: “I don’t just mean a little bit of swelling. I mean the entire skull and head looked to me like a watermelon or an alien.”

Nathaniel’s brain: “The bottom line is, it was soft as anything. When you look at the pictures of the brain we took at autopsy, it was purple and dead ... it was flat and mushy. It was horrible.”

He found evidence that muscles had torn near Nathaniel’s shoulder and hip joints from being pulled. He found marks indicating the boy had been bound at his feet and wrists.

He found bruising on Nathaniel’s torso and back showing the boy had been struck with a “tool type” device over a period of weeks. He found an untreated broken rib. He found “lakes of blood” under Nathaniel’s skull. To get there, Nathaniel’s head must have been struck repeatedly.

In the weeks before his death, Ross testified, Nathaniel was starving.

Chief deputy prosecutor Tim Barker heard all this and glanced back at the clock. Soon York County Judge John S. Kennedy would break for lunch. It was time to ask the question.

Was it possible, Barker asked, for Nathaniel to have done this to himself?

It went to the heart of the defense case. Michael and Nanette Craver have maintained their adopted Russian son constantly abused himself. It was a manifestation of deep physical and psychological issues stemming from a harsh early life in Russia, conditions the Cravers have said they could not stop.

Ross did not hesitate.

“The abuse I see is due to the direct action of another,” Ross said, “not self-abuse.”

With that, Barker ended his questions.

Ross’ testimony dominated the second day of the Dillsburg-area couple’s murder trial. He offered the most graphic description yet of Nathaniel’s condition.

Kennedy warned the jury not to let four black-and-white autopsy photos of Nathaniel’s body prejudice them. One juror was seen to dab her eyes after the first image was displayed.

Michael Craver removed his glasses for much of Ross’ testimony, which also included diagrams of Nathaniel’s injuries.

During cross-examination, attorneys for both Cravers suggested alternate causes for Nathaniel’s injuries. Could a fall have produced the brain injury that ultimately killed the boy, they asked. Could one impact have produced such damage? Could an illness have accounted for Nathaniel’s frailty?

Ross repeatedly parried their questions with a simple refrain: “As a general proposition, yes. Not in this case, but that is true.”

Late in the day, the jury heard from Lisa Blake, a Catholic Charities parent educator who had met with the Cravers four times after they were referred to Children and Youth Services in 2007.

Blake said Michael Craver quickly became angry and red-faced during the meetings. At the last meeting, which defense attorneys pointed out came after a judge had closed the CYS case against the Cravers, Blake said Michael Craver’s intensity made her feel unsafe.

Defense attorneys noted that the Cravers also were meeting with parent educators who specialized in children like Nathaniel with reactive attachment disorder.

2011 Sep 8