Child abuse cases are among the most vigorously prosecuted crimes in Oklahoma. Because of the innocence and vulnerability of the victims, and because their injuries were frequently caused by those responsible for their care, child abuse cases are subject to severe penalties for those convicted of abuse or of enabling abuse to occur.
However, rarely is any case considered to be an "open and shut" case, and child abuse cases are no exception, as any Oklahoma child abuse attorney can attest. In some cases, allegations of abuse or neglect may be completely fabricated in an effort to gain an advantage in a custody dispute or as a form of revenge against a strict parent, guardian, or caregiver. In other cases, the evidence in the case is inconclusive, and does not prove abuse. In still other cases, it may be clear that a child is the victim of abuse, but there is insufficient evidence to determine the perpetrator of the abuse.
One of the clearest examples of a child abuse case muddled by inconclusive evidence is the case of baby Jacob "Jake" Ryan Hedger of Edmond. Jake Hedger was only eight months old on March 8, 2011, when he was taken by ambulance from his babysitter's home. At the hospital, it was determined that Jake had a cracked skull. He died the following day, and his death was ruled a homicide.
However, more than a year after Jake's death, no one has been charged with the crime.
At issue in the case is when Jake's head injury occurred. According to two doctors who attended Jake at The Children's Hospital at OU Medical Center, the injury would have occurred in the two or three hours preceding his admission to the hospital. Because the infant had been at his babysitter's home for seven hours before the caretaker called EMSA, the physicians believe that the injury occurred while Jake was in the care of his babysitter, Traci Kramer.
However, a forensic pathologist hired as part of the investigation says that the infant's injury could have occurred up to two days before he was taken to the hospital. In that case, says the pathologist, the injury could have occurred while the infant was in the care of his parents, Zane and Leah Hedger, or of a different babysitter he was with the day before he was taken to the hospital.
Further complicating the case is the fact that Jake was diagnosed with pneumonia at the time of his death. A hospital pediatrician claims that the baby's death could be the result of his respiratory illness and not as a result of blunt force trauma to the head.
In this case, each side continues to place the blame on the other. While Edmond police claim that Jake and Leah Hedger have been uncooperative by refusing a polygraph test, the Hedgers accuse the local police for mishandling the investigation. Because Traci Kramer is the wife of an OSBI agent who has worked as a trainer for Edmond police, the Hedgers believe that the Edmond Police Department has not appropriately handled the case.
In January, the state's multi-county grand jury met to discuss the case. At this time, no charges have been filed in the death of Jacob "Jake" Ryan Hedger. According to Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater, "We'd like to find out who killed this child. [But] there are times we don't ever have enough evidence to charge the perpetrator." Those who loved Jake Hedger hope that this is not one of those times; they hope to find justice for baby Jake.