Nursery Crimes

The case of the battered Avondale quadruplets includes horrific injuries, a misdiagnosis, a mystery witness, a mentally ill mother, a crude police report, missions of mercy rebuffed. Expect it all to get sorted out in a criminal court.

Concurrently, Tony Perez lost his security-guard job, and started spending more time with Whittle and the kids in the crowded, noisy apartment. The couple now were financially dependent on Whittle's social-security disability checks.

With minor exceptions, the quads' appointments with doctors until late March were uneventful.

On March 22, however, Whittle and Perez took Anthony to the West Valley emergency room with a 105-degree fever. Radiologists at the hospital took x-rays, and tried to determine what was ailing the infant.

That night, Dr. Thomas Vetto tried to draw spinal fluid from the baby, in an effort to learn if meningitis was present. Vetto later told investigators he'd drawn bloody fluid. Literature on shaken baby syndrome says blood in the spinal fluid often signifies child abuse. That possibility apparently didn't register to Vetto or the other doctors who treated Anthony at the time.

Vetto told investigators he never did see Anthony's x-rays during the infant's hours at West Valley on March 22. That night, a helicopter transported Anthony--and his x-rays--to Phoenix Children's Hospital for emergency treatment.

Doctors at Phoenix Children's attempted their own spinal tap to see if Anthony had contracted meningitis. That tap, too, came up bloody. Apparently, no one at that hospital checked Anthony's x-rays.

Anthony's fever receded with the help of antibiotics, and he was transferred on March 30 to Los Ninos Hospital to complete his treatment. Medical personnel later told investigators they did not notice any signs of child abuse during Anthony's five days there.

Los Ninos discharged Anthony on April 3. A hospital official later told investigators she'd spoken with Elizabeth Whittle before Anthony went home. From Detective Shore's report:

"Ms. [Larisa] Janner talked with Ms. Whittle about any types of needs that the hospital could help the family with, and Ms. Whittle refused, stating that they have everything in place, and that they have a support system."

Less than 48 hours later, Anthony was back in the hospital, in a near-comatose state and in extremely critical condition.

Elizabeth Whittle called Dr. Martin Berger of the Maryvale Pediatric Clinic late on the afternoon of April 5.

Berger later said Whittle informed him Anthony was having a hard time breathing, his head was swollen, and he might be having seizures.

The doctor told her to get Anthony to the West Valley emergency room, and he'd meet her there. Berger got there around 6 p.m., and asked the parents how long Anthony had been ill.

"They told him two conflicting stories," the Avondale police report notes. "The first was that Anthony had been acting this way since 11 a.m. . . . When Dr. Berger questioned the time frame, he demonstrated to investigators that he raised his voice and stated, 'since 11 o'clock.' Dr. Berger advised that they then told him that Anthony had been acting this way only for the past hour."

Anthony was flown by helicopter to Phoenix Children's Hospital, which admitted him at 8:16 p.m.

Detective Shore's report indicates he got to the hospital at 1 a.m. on April 6:

"Anthony's breathing was very labor[ed] and he did not react to touch. I also noticed several bruises across the chest, and arms that were purple in color. . . . [He] had a tube that was inserted into his skull and was draining fluids from his head."

Elizabeth Whittle was lying on a couch in a hallway when Shore arrived. Uniformed officers properly had separated Whittle and Perez--suspected child abusers.

At 2:17 a.m., Shore interviewed Whittle in the presence of CPS caseworker Irma Vega. He relied on his notes and memory in compiling a report of this crucial interrogation.

Whittle told the detective that Anthony had seemed normal after his release from Los Ninos. She said she'd awakened from a nap on the afternoon of April 5 when her mother, Anita, came by the apartment:

"Ms. Whittle advised that Grandmother Whittle went and checked on the four children, and noticed that Anthony did not look normal. Ms. Whittle said that Grandmother Whittle told her that his head looked bigger and he was not very active. . . ."

"Ms. Whittle then expressed her concerns that she was feeling like a criminal, because police and CPS were at the hospital. . . . Ms. Whittle explained that when they brought Anthony home from Los Ninos Hospital, he was acting fine, eating and sleeping regularly. Ms. Whittle advised that the damage to Anthony's head was not cause[d] at home, but must have happened at the hospitals."

Near the end of the 40-minute interview, Whittle allegedly made an unintentionally important admission to Shore.

"Ms. Whittle explained that, since [the] birth of the quadruplets, she and Mr. Perez have been the only caretakers for her children. On occasion, Grandmother Whittle will watch the children for a few hours at their residence, but that has not been done for more than two weeks.

"Ms. Whittle described herself as the aggressor in her relationship with Mr. Perez. Ms. Whittle stated that she will get so stress[ed] at times, that she will almost 'black out.'"

At 3:03 a.m., Detective Shore--again with Vega present--interviewed Tony Perez. Perez also surmised that Anthony had been injured during his 12-day hospital stay that ended April 3:

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