Special Kay

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"It's a time to catch up with reading, writing, some thinking," the doctor says.

Her office is small, with the requisite computer, scientific journals and piles of paperwork. What makes it unusual are the dozen or so Post-it notes above her desk.

On each, she's written the name of a child who died at the hands of an adult--"Brenae Rettig--9.5.95 to 3.7.96"--Strangulation and skull fracture."

Some of those responsible for the crimes have been tried and convicted; others haven't.

Rauth-Farley talks about each victim, pausing when she reaches the note with the name of 6-year-old Amber Bass.

The west Phoenix child's horrific death haunts her.
Amber was pronounced dead on arrival at St. Joseph's Hospital on Valentine's Day 1994. She'd suffered severe injuries to her vagina and rectum, and had bled profusely. Called to the ER to examine Amber, Rauth-Farley determined Amber's injuries had occurred in the last day of her life.

But the county medical examiner ruled the girl had died of "natural" causes because of a congenital heart condition.

Rauth-Farley is certain Amber died because someone raped her. And if the sexual assault did lead to the child's death, it would be a "felony murder"--the equivalent of first-degree, premeditated homicide.

But no one has been arrested in the case, and its resolution seems doubtful. One reason, common in child-abuse cases, is that several adults had access to Amber during the hours before she died--and none have implicated themselves or others.

"Amber," Rauth-Farley says, in a momentary trance at the indelible memory of the ravaged child on a gurney at the ER. "Amber."

She snaps out of it. Rauth-Farley's do-everything assistant, Diane Medina, isn't in yet, so the doctor herself answers the phone.

"Child Abuse Center, this is Dr. Farley. Yes, I'm one of the doctors here . . ."

An FBI agent calls from Flagstaff for advice about a child pornography case.
A St. Joe's doctor wants to know if he has to talk with defense attorneys about a new case. "I don't have to, do I?" he asks her.

"No, you don't, not right now, but I'd recommend that you do," Rauth-Farley replies. "That way, you'll get a feeling about what they're after, where they're going, what they're like. It's kind of a head start."

She's scheduled to submit to her own interview with a defense attorney in an odd case involving a west Phoenix boy whose genitals were burned by a hair dryer--allegedly wielded by his mother's boyfriend.

The police theory: An 18-month-old boy urinates on the floor of the couple's Glendale home. His mother offers to clean it up, but the boyfriend says he'll take care of things. Mom returns to the kitchen, then hears a hair dryer going in the bathroom. The door is locked and the child is crying. The boyfriend says he's drying his hair, that the baby is fine. After a while, the hair dryer stops.

The boyfriend later offers to change the child's diaper. But Mom sees nasty blistering on her son's right thigh, scrotum and foreskin of the penis. But the boyfriend doesn't want her to take the baby to a doctor.

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?"

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin