Jurors can't agree; judge calls mistrial in child-abuse case

The question of how a 3-month-old infant came to suffer 17 broken bones was too much for a Pulaski County jury to answer on Friday night, leading to a mistrial for a 28-year-old Cabot father accused of child abuse.

Zachary Andrew Culp was charged with second-degree domestic battery based on the March 2018 diagnosis of child-abuse specialist Dr. Karen Farst. She was part of a team at Arkansas Children's Hospital treating son Quincy Culp's injuries, which include twin brain bleeds.

But jurors, who heard testimony from a Boston doctor that the baby's injuries were due to a rare inherited bone condition, could not reach the required unanimous verdict.

After two hours of deliberations, they reported to Circuit Judge Chris Piazza that while they had rejected the felony charge, they were hopelessly deadlocked 10 to 2 in favor of a lesser count, misdemeanor domestic battery. Piazza dismissed jurors and declared a mistrial. The felony charge carries a 10-year maximum while the misdemeanor carries at most a one-year jail sentence.

In closing arguments, prosecutors Michelle Quiller and Ashley Clancy told jurors that the baby's injuries and Zachary Culp's own words should convict him. The first-time father was overcome by baby Quincy's failure to thrive, coupled with the child's constant bouts of crying and throwing up, they told the jury.

"The defendant did this and he told you he did this," Quiller said. "He was trying to make the crying stop. He was a frustrated parent. Quincy Culp does not have diseased bones. Quincy Culp does have 17 broken bones in various stages of healing."

The diagnosis by the defense doctor that the baby has a rare genetic disorder is fringe science that has not been accepted by mainstream pediatric doctors, the prosecutors said. The best evidence against Zachary Culp is that the child has since fully recovered and has not had a single bone injury since his father has been barred from seeing him for the past 11 months, they said.

Defense attorneys Kent Krause and Harrison Tome told jurors the baby's healing does not contradict defense findings that the infant suffers from a variation of the genetic disorder Ehlers-Danlos syndrome that affects collagen development. The baby's recovery is to be expected as part of his natural growth process as his bones strengthen, he said.

Quincy is too young for genetic testing to show that he has the condition, but defense expert Dr. Michael Holick, an authority on metabolic bone disease, has diagnosed his mother, Sarah Culp, with the condition, which puts Quincy at a 50-percent chance for inheriting it, Tome told the jury.

Holick, the director of the Bone Health Care Clinic at Boston University Medical Center, also saw signs of the syndrome in Zachary Culp. If both parents have it, the baby's odds of inheritance increase to 75 percent, the defense attorneys said.

Tome said Zachary Culp is a loving father who was bullied by deputies into making incriminating statements about how he handled his son just as he was learning the extent of the baby's injuries. Tome told jurors that Culp was being questioned at a time while he was most vulnerable to coercion.

The only thing Zachary Culp did wrong was to unknowingly subject his seriously ill child to a "cold and powerful bureaucracy" of doctors, law officers and state officials more interested in making a checklist diagnosis than actually taking the time to fully examine the baby, whose illness does not fit their preconceived ideas, Tome said.

"All that bureaucracy did was the check the box," he said. "Only you [the jurors] have the power to stop the gears of this machine ... to say, we're not going to just check a box; to say, this stops here; to say, he did not abuse his son."

Metro on 02/26/2019