Who Killed Baby Alan?

Baby Alan in September 1997

Alan Yurko is innocent, so who is responsible for the death of his infant son Alan Jr.?

By Hans Sherrer (June 2004)

            The worst nightmare of every young child’s parents was experienced by Alan and Francine Yurko on November 24, 1997. Alan rushed their ten-week-old son, Alan Jr., to an Orlando, Florida hospital after noticing he had stopped breathing. Although resuscitated at the hospital, baby Alan died three days later.

            Doctors suggested baby Alan's condition was attributable to Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS). Police investigators locked onto Alan Yurko as the suspect since he was the last adult alone with his son before his hospitalization. Believing they had an open and shut case against him, prosecutors charged Alan with child abuse and first degree murder. After a three day trial in February 1999, he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

            That seemed to close the book on the death of Alan Yurko Jr. Yet six years later troubling questions pervade baby Alan’s death, and the fairness of his father's investigation, trial, conviction and imprisonment.

            The extent of those doubts was hinted at during Alan’s trial. Five local doctors relied on bleeding in baby Alan's brain for their testimony he died from SBS. However none of the doctors agreed about when his alleged injuries occurred or even what those injuries were. Their tangled testimony was compounded by Dr. Douglas Shanklin. One of the country's most respected pathologists, he testified during Alan’s defense that baby Alan's bleeding began less than 24 hours before his death. That meant the bleeding began more than two days after he was transported to Florida Hospital and placed under the intensive care of its staff. Dr. Shanklin’s testimony was consistent with the lack of witnesses to Alan being anything other than a caring father.

            Aided by dozens of doctors and medical professors with expertise in at least eight different disciplines, Francine Yurko has assembled a considerable body of evidence since her husband’s trial that explain the causes of baby Alan's death, and substantiates his innocence. This information can be viewed on the Free Yurko website (http://freeyurko.bizland.com).

            In a February 16, 2002 presentation – Did Baby Alan Die of Shaken Baby Syndrome? – Dr. Harold E. Buttram outlined how all of baby Alan’s alleged injuries attributed to SBS could have been caused by known factors unrelated to parental mistreatment, and that dozens of innocent parents are known to have been falsely accused of SBS in this and other countries. Doubts that baby Alan died from SBS are further supported by a report, Perimacular Retinal Folds From Childhood Head Trauma, published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) in March 2004. The report found that a certain type of eye injury – “subdural and retinal haemorrhages” (severe bleeding into the eye) - that has been used to diagnose SBS, can have causes other than abuse. [1] Researchers at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine in North Carolina reviewed the medical literature and case studies on the syndrome, and found, “Statements in the medical literature that perimacular retinal folds are diagnostic of shaken baby syndrome are not supported by objective scientific evidence.” [2] More precisely, they found there are only two flawed case-control studies on the subject, and that the published work displays “an absence of …precise and reproducible case definition, and interpretations or conclusions that overstep the data.” [3]

The March 2004 report in the BMJ is not the first one questioning the scientific basis of SBS: In a review of review of SBS medical literature from 1966 to 1998 that was published in 2003 by the American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, researcher Mark Donohoe found, “there was inadequate scientific evidence to come to a firm conclusion on most aspects of causation, diagnosis, treatment, or any other matters,” and that in regards to SBS, there are “serious data gaps, flaws of logic, inconsistency of case definitions.” [4] Indicative that SBS’s origin had no scientific basis, Donohoe reported, “the evidence for shaken baby syndrome appears analogous to an inverted pyramid, with a very small database (most of it poor quality original research, retrospective in nature, and without appropriate control groups) spreading to a broad body of somewhat divergent opinions.” [5]

            Some doctors are questioning whether SBS actually exists, and the BMJ wrote in its March 27, 2004 editorial that due to doubts about the scientific basis of SBS – “We need to reconsider the diagnostic criteria, if not the existence of shaken baby syndrome.” [6] Yet in spite of doubts that SBS even exists as a medical condition, the testimony of prosecution witnesses at Alan Yurko’s trial that it was the cause of his son’s death was relied on by the jurors to convict him. [7]

            Consistent with doubts about the existence of SBS and Dr. Buttram’s analysis that there are established medical explanations for baby Alan’s alleged injuries, is Francine’s discovery that baby Alan's emergency hospitalization could have been caused by his injection on November 11, 1997 with six vaccines identified in a federal database (vaers.org) as “hot lots” known to cause significant adverse reactions. One of the “hot-lot” vaccines given to baby Alan (DTaP-7H815087) has been associated with the death of at least five other children. Its average reaction time of about 12 days is consistent with baby Alan’s emergency hospitalization 13 days after being injected with that vaccine.

            After Baby Alan’s admittance to Florida Hospital, he was systematically given nearly nine times the recommended dosage of Heparin: An anticoagulant drug that not only promotes, but can trigger brain bleeding. One of Heparin’s uses is to preserve organs for transplanting, and Baby Alan was a designated organ donor. Medical expert’s have noted baby Alan’s brain bleeding could have been induced by the overdoses of Heparin proscribed for him during the last three days of his life.

            Although it is troubling in its implications, the nature of baby Alan’s care before and after his hospitalization makes sense from one perspective: He was medically worthless alive, but as a designated organ donor he was extremely valuable dead. That suggestion is consistent with the close working relationship doctors at Florida Hospital have with TransLife, an Orlando company that provides organs, tissue and transplant services. After his death, baby Alan's heart and other organs were harvested and provided to TransLife for distribution.

            Baby Alan’s value dead was explained in a December 2, 2002 press release by TransLife’s marketing manager, who wrote that because there are insufficient organs available to meet the transplant demand, “ways to increase the supply” were being investigated. Among the ways being considered was increasing the number of cadavers considered to have organs acceptable for transplanting. The acute shortage of transplant organs was the subject of New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd’s November 16, 2003 column, in which she reported that 83,000 people are on waiting lists, and about 6,000 people die yearly waiting for a critical organ transplant. [8]

            Since there was an unmet need for organs in 1997, as there is now, TransLife’s publicly expressed desire to pursue “ways to increase the supply” of cadavers has gruesome implications for what is now known about the life and death of baby Alan.

            The many seedy and devious ways the insatiable world-wide demand for transplantation organs is being filled are hinted at by the fact based 2003 movie Dirty Pretty Things, about how illegal immigrants in the United Kingdom sell their organs for money and residency papers, reports of organs harvested from condemned Chinese prisoners, March 2004 news stories about the harvesting of organs from hundreds, and possibly thousands, of cadavers stolen from UCLA’s medical school over a five-year period, [9] and the revelation in April 2004 that organs were stolen during unauthorized autopsies in several British hospitals. [10]

            Baby Alan’s death seems to suggest another ghoulish method: The medically induced death of a known organ donor. Considering the suspicious circumstances of baby Alan’s treatment, it is pertinent to ask how Florida Hospital, his doctor Ben Guedes M.D., and TransLife, directly and indirectly benefited financially and otherwise from his death.

            After baby Alan’s heart and other organs were harvested, he was turned over to the medical examiner’s office for an autopsy. Medical Examiner Shashi Gore’s autopsy reported baby Alan was a two month old s baby with a cranial measurement of 22 cm, and whose organs were all intact. The report also describes the excising of heart tissue that was microscopically examined. Yet baby Alan was a 10 week old Caucasian whose cranial measurement at birth was 31.5 cm, and which later hospital examination records list as 37.5 cm. In addition, baby Alan’s heart and other organs were removed for transplanting prior to his body being turned over to the M.E.’s office for autopsy. So the autopsy allegedly performed on baby Alan was actually of a physically dissimilar child with intact organs.

            Considering what is known about the slothful way the medical examiner’s office tracked physical evidence and records in the mid-1990s, it is a real possibility they would not have detected the switching or mislabeling of two dissimilar bodies. It became public knowledge in September 2002 that in the mid-1990s the medical examiner’s office for Orange County (Orlando) was run so slipshod that in hundreds of cases it lost and contaminated evidence, and couldn’t find missing lists and logs. At that time it also came to light that Dr. Gore was not a board certified forensic pathologist when he was hired in 1996 to run the medical examiner’s office and perform autopsies.

            Dr. Gore’s autopsy on a black baby labeled as baby Alan, but who was smaller, younger and with intact organs is conceivable in the climate of incompetence and confusion that pervaded the medical examiner’s office.

            Another discrepancy is baby Alan’s records indicate that Francine Yurko positively identified his body for the medical examiner’s office. Yet she maintains she never did so, and she further asserts that the last time she saw her son was in his hospital room the day prior to the harvesting of his organs for distribution by TransLife. Her claims are supported by Dr. Gore’s testimony at her husband’s trial that she was never interviewed by the medical examiners office, from which her son’s body was directly shipped for cremation.

            Francine Yurko also reports the oddity that after she expressed the desire for a second autopsy, she was rushed to get the body out of the medical examiner’s facility. So while in a state of shock over the death of her son, and with a cloud of police suspicion hanging over her husband who was in custody, a sedated Francine Yurko was pressured to authorize cremation of the body listed as baby Alan without a second autopsy being performed.

            The evidence that Alan Yurko didn’t receive a fair trial was also bolstered by the Orlando Sentinel’s report on March 27, 2004, that at least one of his jurors believes he should get a new trial. The juror, Thomas Miller, told the paper that if what has been publicly reported about Dr. Gore’s suspect testimony had been disclosed during the trial, “...there’s no way I could have found [Yurko] guilty.” [11]

            Serious questions are also raised by the inexplicable negligence of local prosecutors and police investigators: Although baby Alan was a suspected murder victim and his body constituted the sole physical evidence of any alleged crime, those law enforcement authorities did not make any attempt to preserve the autopsied body or prevent the cremation.

            So there are at least four prongs to baby Alan’s mysterious death. First, if baby Alan was murdered, it appears to have involved one or more doctors entrusted with his care at Florida Hospital. Second, the removal of baby Alan’s organs may have been related to an organ harvesting scheme involving his doctor(s), TransLife, and with the Florida Hospital involved at least to the degree of providing use of its facilities. Third, since Dr. Gore’s autopsy was not of baby Alan – where was he then, and where is he now? Fourth, why did prosecutors and police investigators not do anything to attempt to preserve the evidence of the crime Alan Yurko was then under investigation for – namely the body they would have been expected to believe was his son?

            The answers to these questions are vitally important to the prosecution of Alan Yurko, particularly since he was convicted of murdering the autopsied baby that the available evidence indicates was not his son.

            It is reasonable to conclude at this point that Alan Yurko is innocent, he was wrongly convicted, and he has spent more than six years falsely imprisoned for his son’s death. If Alan Yurko Jr.’s death was a crime, the trail leads straight to the inner sanctum of Orlando’s medical community. However, local prosecutors and police investigators have thus far protected those individuals and organizations from investigation, and the prosecution they may deserve for their role in the death of Alan Yurko Jr.

            Some of the mysteries surrounding baby Alan’s death may be cleared up in the fall of 2004. On March 26, 2004, Circuit Judge C. Alan Lawson ordered an evidentiary hearing to begin on August 23, 2004. After the hearing Judge Lawson can reverse Alan Yurko’s conviction and order a news trial, or he can let the conviction stand.

            If baby Alan could speak one has to believe he would demand justice for his father – and for those responsible for snuffing out of his young and precious life. He could then rest in peace.


            Note: Hans Sherrer is Associate Publisher of Justice:Denied - the magazine of the wrongly convicted. Hans Sherrer accepts sole responsibility for the content of this article. He can be reached at hsherrer@forejustice.org.

            Justice:Denied, Issue 23 published an article about the Alan Yurko case that is available for reading at, http://justicedenied.org/issue/issue_23/alan_yurko.html.


[1] The Evidence Base For Shaken Baby Syndrome, supra, at 719. See also, Perimacular Retinal Folds From Childhood Head Trauma, supra, at 754-5. (Researchers at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine reviewed medical literature and found, “Statements in the medical literature that perimacular retinal folds [bleeding into the eye] are diagnostic of shaken baby syndrome are not supported by objective scientific evidence.” Id. at 756. The report cites, e.g., the case of a 14-month old child who suffered bleeding into the eye after a television fell on his head. Id at 754-5.).

[2] Perimacular Retinal Folds From Childhood Head Trauma, supra, at 756.

[3] Perimacular Retinal Folds From Childhood Head Trauma, supra, at 754-756.

[4] Evidence Based Medicine and Shaken Baby Syndrome, supra, 239-42; see also, Research Casts Doubt on ‘Shaken Baby’ Science, Jackie Dent, The Guardian, March 26, 2004, http://society.guardian.co.uk/health/story/0,7890,1178919,00.html (last visited April 18, 2004)  (Research Donohoe found “the scientific evidence to support a diagnose was much less reliable than generally thought.”).

[5] Evidence Based Medicine and Shaken Baby Syndrome, supra, 239-42.

[6] The Evidence Base For Shaken Baby Syndrome, supra, at 720.

[7] Research Casts Doubt on ‘Shaken Baby’ Science, Jackie Dent, The Guardian, March 26, 2004, http://society.guardian.co.uk/health/story/0,7890,1178919,00.html (last visited April 18, 2004).

[8] How Far Is Too Far In The Search For Organ Donors, Carol M. Ostrom (staff), Seattle Times, March 21, 2004.

[9] UCLA Stops Accepting Donated Bodies During Probe, Mason Stockstill (AP), San Diego Union-Tribune, March 10, 2004.

[10] Doctors warn of legal fears over autopsies, Amelia Hill, The Observer, April 4, 2004, News 11.

[11] Dead Baby’s Dad Closer To Retrial, Amy C. Rippel and Anthony Colarossi (staff writers), Orlando Sentinel, March 27, 2004.