This is an audio case brief of Oxendine v. State, 528 A.2d 870 (Del. 1987).The audio brief provides a full case analysis. However a written summary of the case is provided below.
On the morning of January 18, 1984, Leotha Tyree, Oxendine’s girlfriend, who lived with him, pushed Jeffrey into the bathtub. This push caused microscopic tears in Jeffery’s intestines which led to peritonitis. During a break at work that evening, Oxendine telephoned home and talked to Jeffrey. Jeffery complained of stomach pains. When Oxendine returned home from work, he saw bruises on Jeffrey and knew that Tyree had beaten the child during the day. Although Jeffrey continued to complain of a stomachache, he apparently did not tell his father how or when he received the bruises.
The next morning at approximately 7:30 a.m., Oxendine went into Jeffrey’s bedroom and began screaming at him to get up. A neighbor in the same apartment building testified to hearing sounds coming from the room of blows being struck, obscenities uttered by a male voice, and cries from a child saying, “Please stop, Daddy, it hurts.” After hearing these sounds continue for what seemed like five to ten minutes, the witness heard a final noise consisting of a loud thump, as if someone had been kicked or punched “with a great blow.”
Later that day, Jeffrey’s abdomen became swollen. When Oxendine arrived home from work at about 5:00 p.m., Tyree told him of Jeffrey’s condition and urged him to take Jeffrey to the hospital. Oxendine, apparently believing that Jeffrey was exaggerating his discomfort, went out, bought a newspaper, and returned home to read it. Upon his return, Tyree had prepared to take Jeffrey to the hospital. En route, Jeffrey stopped breathing; and was pronounced dead shortly after his arrival at the hospital.
Oxendine was charged with, and convicted of manslaughter, and a lesser included offense of assault in the second degree for the death of Jeffery.
He appealed his conviction.
The issue of appeal is whether Oxendine beating of Jeffery was the cause of Jeffery’s death.
The state’s criminal code defines causation as the antecedent but for which the result in question would not have occurred.
Here is how the court applied this rule to the facts of this case.
The states theory of causation was that Jeffery died as a result of either the combined direct effect of both Oxendine and his girlfriend’s beating of Jeffery or Oxendine’s beating of Jeffery aggravated Jeffery’s death.
To this end, the state presented two expert witness testimonies. Both witness testified that in their expert opinion, there were two distinct injuries, one caused more than twenty-four hours before the death of the child, and one inflicted less than twenty-four hours before death.
The first expert testified that in his view, it was possible that both the older and more recent injury could have contributed to the death of the child, but he was unable to tell which of the injuries caused the death of the child. The second expert on the other hand, was of the opinion that the earlier injury was the underlying cause of death. According to him, the later injury, was an aggravating, and probably some factors contributing, but it was the earlier injury that was the plain underlying cause of death.
The court took time to distinguishe contribution or aggravation from acceleration. The court explained that aggravation or contribution may make the victims pain more intense but aggravation without acceleration is insufficient to convict the defendant. That is for the defendant to be convicted of for the death of the victim, the defendant’s act must accelerate the time of the victim’s death.
So that in the instant case, it is not enough that Oxendine’s beating may have contributed to Jeffery’s death. To find him liable, the injury must have hastened the time of death of the child.
The court explained that the State’s expert medical testimony, even when viewed in the light most favorable to the State, was insufficient to sustain the State’s original theories of causation Both of the State’s expert witnesses, Dr. Inguito and Dr. Hameli, were unable to state with any degree of medical certainty that the second injury contributed to the death of the child. Dr. Inguito could only testify that it was possible that both the older and more recent injury could have contributed to the death of the child. As for Dr. Hameli, he testified that the second injury independent of the first injury could have caused death but probably would not cause death. Furthermore, Dr. Hameli explicitly stated that he could not give an opinion as to whether the second injury accelerated Jeffrey’s death. Similarly, Dr. Inguito was neither asked nor did he offer an opinion about acceleration.
The court further expressed that it is extremely difficult to be objective about the death of a child. Those responsible ought to be punished. Nevertheless, there must be proof as to who, if anyone, inflicted the injuries that resulted in death. And in this case, the state was not able to establish that the injury the child sustained from Oxendines beatings accelerated the child’s death.
In conclusion the court reversed Oxendine’s conviction for manslaughter but affirmed his conviction for the lesser included offense of assault in the second degree.