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Accused baby shaker trial opens

Hang Bin Li sits in court during a trial where he is accused of murdering his daughter. Photo by Ellis Kaplan
TimesLedger Newspapers

At the baby shaking trial of a Flushing man, a parade of doctors and officers took the stand in Queens Supreme Court to testify about their knowledge of the events that led to the October 2007 death of his 2-month-old daughter.

Hang Bin Li, a 28-year-old originally from China, has been jailed in Rikers Island for nearly five years and listened to the trial through the hushed voice of a court translator speaking Mandarin in his ear.

The autopsy report of tiny Annie Li’s injuries — which included a fracture to the right side of her skull, bleeding and increased pressure on the brain, hemorrhaged retinas and healing rib and leg fractures — is not the source of the arguments. Annie died as a result of her head injury. Rather both sides are trying to prove how and why those injuries occurred.

Assistant District Attorney Leigh Bishop contends that Li purposely caused Annie’s head injuries and shook the child. The defense attorney, Cedric Ashley, maintains Annie had no neck injuries consistent with shaking a baby. He further contends Annie suffered from a genetic disorder called osteogenesis imperfecta, better known as brittle bone syndrome, which caused serious injury when Li bumped the infant’s head on a night stand. The gene that can cause this type of condition was found in both Annie and her father.

Dr. James Goodrich, a pediatric neurosurgeon with decades of experience who was the attending neurosurgeon at Flushing Hospital Center on the night Annie was admitted, testified at the jury trial soon after it began last week.

Although Goodrich admitted he was not a specialist in the disease, he said that the baby’s CT scan indicated the head injuries were caused by abuse. He also said he had no reason to suspect that Annie had brittle bone disease since her skull fracture was not consistent with his experience with the disorder and the 12 or so other children with osteogenesis impefecta he had treated throughout his career.

But under cross examination, Goodrich did say a person with brittle bone disease would be more susceptible to injury, including head injuries, and that the disorder ranges in severity.

Dr. Rusly Harsono, the attending physician in the pediatric intensive care unit on the night Annie was admitted said Tuesday he also believed Annie died from abuse and had no reason to suspect she had brittle bone disease.

But Li’s attorney established through questioning that neither of the doctors ruled out osteogenesis imperfecta when they presumed the injuries were intentionally inflicted. Tests showing Annie carried the disease-causing gene were only done well after the doctors’ assessments.

The question of whether brittle bone disease contributed to Annie’s death has not only made for a battle of medical testimonies, it has also encouraged a group of Flushing residents to show their support for Li each day in court.

The group, led by Flushing travel agent Michael Chu, contends that the Lis — Hang Bin Li’s common law wife Ying Li had lesser charges against her dropped earlier this month after spending about four years on Rikers Island — are new immigrants who got lost in an unfamiliar system and have evidence that could exonerate them.

Over a period of years, the group has raised tens of thousands of dollars to hire Ashley and pay for other court costs.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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