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The next morning, Mom takes the tot to a hospital and contacts police, who never find the hair dryer.
The boyfriend's story: He never heard the hair dryer when he was taking a shower. After the shower, he saw the child holding the hair dryer--which wasn't on--in his naked lap on the floor. He says he didn't do anything to hurt the child.
Kay Rauth-Farley examines the child two days later, after talking with his mother. The doctor reports second-degree burns, but doesn't see patterns that would prove the hair dryer had touched the baby's skin. Instead, she writes, someone likely burned the boy by holding the hair dryer near his genitals.
The doctor notes that the baby's injuries were not consistent with diaper rash.
"It sounds like it was cruel, not frustration," Rauth-Farley says as she awaits the phone interview with the boyfriend's attorney. "It's like he found a new method to discipline the kid, and it went a little too far."
For legal reasons, the jury never will get to hear that opinion.
Assistant public defender Joe Stazzone asks Rauth-Farley on the phone if the child's injuries could have been caused by a rug burn. No way, the doctor says, you wouldn't have had the blistering present in this case.
Stazzone asks the doctor why she wrote that the child's injuries hadn't been caused by a diaper rash.
"Because I knew that would become an issue," she answers curtly. "I knew somebody like you would probably make it look like it was a diaper rash. You understanding me?"
Stazzone asks Rauth-Farley if she knows how hot hair dryers can get.
"I know they can get hot enough to burn you."
The lawyer asks if the child could have sustained the burns by accident.
Rauth-Farley says it's possible.
The interview ends, and the doctor moves on to her next task. She listens to Dr. Melinda Paradis and Wendy Dutton synopsize a new case, that of a 4-year-old who told her mother that her father had fondled her genitals.
But Dutton says the little girl hadn't revealed anything to her, other than wanting to go home.
"There were some big old tears," Paradis says.
"She can cry all she wants," Rauth-Farley says, "as long as she cooperates with the exam. Tell her it's important for us to see if she's hurt."
"She said she was fine."
"Well, we're not going to four-point her," Rauth-Farley says, adding that some clinics do hold down young patients to complete exams.
A 30-year-old mother of two, Paradis has worked with Rauth-Farley for a year. She, too, will soon be leaving St. Joseph's, to head a new child-abuse clinic at a Connecticut hospital.
"She's taught me so many little things," Paradis says of Rauth-Farley. "I used to tell my patients before doing an exam, 'We're only gonna touch,' trying to relax them. She told me that how I said it may have been just what the perpetrator said--'We're just gonna touch'--and might be difficult on the child. She's also taught me how to word reports, to stay conservative in my approach. She'll say, 'If you can't explain something simply in writing, how are you going to do on the stand?'"
The hair-dryer case goes to trial in early June. Rauth-Farley's testimony goes smoothly, but she's troubled.
"I may have assumed too much," she says of the prosecutor. "I thought we'd go over more before I testified. There were some things she could have asked me, but didn't. I think there may be problems getting a conviction in this one."
In closing arguments, the prosecutor reminds the jury that Rauth-Farley had testified the burns weren't accidental.
"This wasn't some freak accident," the prosecutor says. ". . . He [defendant] doesn't want his nasty secrets to come out."
But the prosecutor is wrong. In the pretrial interview and on the stand, Rauth-Farley had said the burns could have been accidental.
"Ask yourself what Dr. Farley has testified to," defense attorney Stazzone reminds the panel. ". . . She [says] it could have been accidental genital trauma that's caused the injuries."
The jury acquits the boyfriend--now the ex-boyfriend, by the way--after deliberating only a few hours.
Rauth-Farley is upset at the news.
"I let that kid down," she says. "Those burns were horrible. As if that baby inflicted them by himself. . . . I should have done more."
Kay Rauth-Farley walks the few hundred yards from her clinic on West Thomas Road to the main building at St. Joseph's Hospital. It's noon, but she usually skips lunch to attend Mass at the little chapel inside the hospital.
Today, Father Milt offers a prayer for those "taking leave of their jobs, of schools, for those who are ill." He also warns worshipers to beware of "savage bulls."
The metaphor is prescient.
Rauth-Farley knows that too many "savage bulls" remain on the loose, in Arizona and elsewhere.
"Where I'm going, I want to keep teaching others what to look for, how to deal with these cases," the doctor says, during the walk back to her clinic and another afternoon of physical examinations, decision-making and advice-giving.
"Becoming a doctor was something I needed to do. And I suppose that working in the area of child abuse is something I think I'm needed to do."
Contact Paul Rubin at his online address: firstname.lastname@example.org
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