Taken Baby Syndrome

Raul and Karla Larranaga's baby Desiree died under mysterious circumstances a year ago. Now Child Protective Services has taken their newborn daughter, Sophia, away from them. But witnesses who neither the police nor CPS interviewed tell New Times they su

This is confirmed by relatives and family friends who spoke with New Times.
Several people claim that Arredondo, after seeing Raul Larranaga reading The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, for example, claimed that Raul idolized Hitler and killed his daughter because he only wanted male children.

Rumors that Arredondo had said unflattering things about the Larranagas to detective Byers also began to reach Karla. (The Larranagas, who are wholly unsophisticated in legal matters, did not obtain, until recently, copies of the police investigation or medical records pertaining to Desiree.)

Even after hearing that Arredondo was making derogatory, even bizarre, statements about the Larranagas, Karla has been reluctant to consider the possibility that her aunt could have had something to do with her daughter's injuries.

"Even though she's my aunt," Karla says, "I didn't know her well. I don't want to say something bad about her. They'll think we're just trying to get out from charges."

She does admit, however, that her family is becoming increasingly nervous about discussing Arredondo. And Karla's mother, who family members say repeatedly visited Arredondo when she was watching Desiree, tells Karla that she will not agree to an interview with New Times.

Dr. Heinz Karnitschnig, one of the most respected forensic pathologists in the state--he served as Maricopa County's medical examiner for 21 years--says CPS' version of the death of Desiree Larranaga is pure fantasy.

New Times asked Karnitschnig, who is now retired, to review the autopsy report on Desiree. He explains by telephone from his home in Prescott that shaken baby syndrome is a brain injury which may not kill for many hours, or even days.

After examining the record of Maricopa County medical examiner Dr. Philip Keen's autopsy of Desiree--which he praises for its thoroughness--Karnitschnig says there's no question Desiree was shaken up to a day before she died. And, he adds, the examination uncovered blood-vessel growth in some areas of injury, which indicates that the child received other head injuries as well, days earlier.

As to CPS' assertion that the injury occurred one to five hours before the baby's death: "That's bullshit," he says. "Twelve hours is an absolute minimum. I should say you could go back 24 hours [before the child stopped breathing]."

Children suspected to be victims of abuse are routinely x-rayed to find if their long bones, those in their legs, for example, show signs of fracture that might not otherwise be obvious to a medical examiner in an autopsy. Radiologists found a healing fracture on one of Desiree's leg bones. The Larranagas say they first found out about the x-ray results when they were mentioned by a CPS caseworker in last month's juvenile court hearing. Until then, they hadn't known their child had broken a bone, they insist.

Karnitschnig acknowledges that such a fracture might not be obvious, and that it might not even show swelling. If someone else were abusing their child, it's possible that the Larranagas would not have noticed such a fracture. "If it's an undisplaced fracture and the child isn't mobile anyway, then it might not be discovered until an x-ray is taken." On the other hand, he points out, the tibia broken in Desiree would not have had as much soft tissue around it as other bones, and he would expect the leg to swell, for the first few days anyway. But the Larranagas say they didn't notice anything.

As to the burns on Desiree's face, which detective Byers finds such a compelling indication of the Larranagas' guilt, Karnitschnig finds it significant so many witnesses reported that the child's face did not exhibit the burns when she left in the paramedics' care.

"There's a possibility that if there was nothing seen on the child when it left the house, and then there was discoloration that appeared later, it could have come from a tape that was used to hold a tube, perhaps. But," he cautions, "I can't make that determination simply from the description in the medical examiner's report."

Byers admits that the patrolmen's reports are perplexing--and he adds that paramedics also neglected to mention the cheek abrasions or burns in their reports--but he still finds them troubling.

But to accept Byers' assumption that the source of the abrasions is connected to the source of the shaking, then one also must accept that Raul Larranaga somehow burned his infant daughter at precisely the moment when his child was succumbing to the effects of being shaken hours earlier.

That snag, especially in the light of the unanimous observations by police officers who saw no burns, suggest that the red marks are a red herring.

By Karnitschnig's reckoning, Desiree's fatal injuries occurred during a 12-hour period on Sunday, November 12, from about 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

It's uncontroverted that for 11 of those hours, all six residents of the Larranaga household were present. None reported an unusual occurrence or excessive crying by the baby. And everyone agrees that at 5 p.m., Raul and Karla Larranaga left their house and placed their child in the care of Lourdes Arredondo.

What detective Byers didn't know is that three hours later, someone heard Desiree Larranaga screaming in pain.

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