Thursday, January 22, 2009

Attorney withdraws motion to take Dallas baby off life support

By STEVE THOMPSON / The Dallas Morning News

The fate of a brain-damaged 6-month-old Dallas boy is uncertain after his court-appointed attorney on Tuesday withdrew a motion to let doctors take the baby off life support.

But the fate of his parents, arrested last month on child abuse charges, may hinge on whether David Coronado Jr. survives his horrific injuries.

The baby's attorney ad litem, Holly Schreier, told a juvenile district court judge that doctors at Children's Medical Center Dallas had assessed a change in the baby's condition. She did not say what the change was, and she did not return a call for comment.

A doctor reported in December that he expected David to suffer severe disabilities if he survived. It is unclear if doctors now expect the baby to remain in a vegetative or minimally conscious state.

Meanwhile, word of the possible hearing on withdrawing the child's life support had spread over the weekend among right-to-life and disabilities-rights groups, at least one of which readied attorneys to intervene Tuesday morning.

"Brains are very resilient, and in a 6-month-old baby, to conclude that he's neurologically devastated and is going to stay permanently that way I think is irresponsible," said Jerri Lynn Ward, an attorney representing Not Dead Yet, a disabilities-rights group.

Schreier's motion to allow support to be withdrawn did not explain her reasoning, other than to say that it was in the baby's best interest and that she had discussed the issue with doctors at Children's.

The motion does not make clear the hospital's stance. Texas' "futile-care" law outlines a procedure that allows a hospital's ethics committee to authorize withdrawal of support over a family's objections in some cases. The baby is in temporary CPS custody, but the agency has not taken a position.

The motion noted that the baby's parents have not consented to any withdrawal of life support.

David Cesar Coronado Sr., 23, and Ruthy Marie Chabolla, 22, are accused of abusing their only child so cruelly that he has been in intensive care since last month, when he stopped breathing and was rushed to a hospital to be resuscitated.

A doctor reported the baby had 42 separate skeletal injuries and numerous skin injuries that included human bite marks, in addition to severe brain and spinal cord injuries. Many of the fractures had healed some, the doctor said, indicating they were several weeks old. Both parents have denied deliberately hurting their child, telling police that the injuries may have occurred while the baby slept with them.

An attorney for Chabolla said Tuesday that her client is innocent.

"She wants to be with her child," attorney Debbie Sanchez said.

Sanchez declined to clarify Chabolla's position on whether her son should remain on life support.

"I'm not going to speak for how a mother feels about that," Sanchez said.

Chabolla's and the father's futures may depend on the decision. In a 2004 case, a mother and stepfather accused of abusing their 5-year-old daughter faced capital murder charges after the girl was taken off life support.

Doctors said the little girl, Amber Rose Pacheco, had no brain activity and would not recover. While CPS had custody of the girl, her birth father helped persuade a judge to rule that life support could be withdrawn.

Chabolla and Coronado declined interview requests sent to the jail, and family members who arrived for the court hearing Tuesday also declined to comment.

MySpace pages in the couple's names featured many photos of the young family. They included pictures of a baby shower, mother and father in the hospital soon after delivery, and photos of the three seemingly happy and healthy together.

Sanchez described Chabolla as "very concerned over the welfare of her child." She added that her client has been forced to rely on news reports for information about how the baby is doing.

"She's getting her news about her child from the news," Sanchez said.

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