A Madison County, North Carolina woman charged with murdering her infant daughter is free on bond after a state autopsy has raised issues with the cause of death. The state medical examiner’s autopsy lists meningitis as the probable cause of death for Kali Cochran, 6-months-old, who died in February of last year. The findings contradict earlier medical opinions and the investigator’s theory that the child was killed due to shaken baby syndrome (SBS).
Brandi Rae Cochran, 26, was charged with first-degree murder in February and has been in jail for more than 10 months awaiting trial. Her bond was recently set at $50,000 after the new information was revealed. Her family was able to post the bond.
Prosecutors have refused to drop the charges and Madison County Sheriff’s Office investigators remain convinced. Dr. Donald Jason, of Winston-Salem, who performed the autopsy, noted in his report the probable cause of death was meningitis, which is an inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. Dr. Jason amended the original report, but the Chief Medical Examiner has yet to approve the new findings.
In the original report, Dr. Jason wrote, “Significant findings at autopsy include subdural hemorrhage and cerebral edema. No scalp or subgaleal hemorrhages are seen. No skull fractures are present. No cerebral contusions are seen.”
Dr. Jason did find evidence of injury on the girl, but nothing that would have proved fatal. The injuries included a red abrasion on the left eyelid, a blue contusion near the right ear and another contusion on the right ear. The girl also had a bite mark on her left forearm, one on her left thigh, and one on her right thigh, according to the original report. Prosecutor Britt Springer said at the bond hearing that the Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. Deborah Radisch disagreed with Dr. Jason’s new findings and wanted to do her own review.
Springer told the court, “Since it’s been two months and there’s been no movement, we called and said, well, what’s the holdup here, and Dr. Radisch’s words to me are, ‘I’m not signing that…’”
Springer said that Dr. Radisch and Dr. Jason have had disagreements in other cases over medical findings and that she often “has a lot of problems with…his findings.” Springer also told the judge that Cochran confessed to investigators saying, “in anger she shook the child and then shortly thereafter the child started showing displays of head-swelling – brain swelling – and got taken to the hospital.”
Todd Williams, Cochran’s attorney, told the judge at the bond hearing that Cochran’s statements were made under emotional duress after finding out her child died and that she falsely confessed. Williams also told the court that other than Dr. Jason, Dr. Kimberly Stogner-Underwood, another pathologist, who performed a microscopic analysis on the child’s brain, found no damage “that would be indicative of the sudden acceleration, deceleration, trauma” associated with shaken baby syndrome (SBS).
“It’s not just Dr. Jason that makes these findings,” Williams said. “If the medical examiner has a problem with Dr. Jason, she’s also going to have a problem with Dr. Stogner-Underwood…We have two doctors that are making specific findings that undermine the shaken baby syndrome theory.”
The autopsy “finds that there’s basically not a homicide.”
Williams also told the judge that the bite marks most likely came from the baby’s 3-year-old brother who is going through a biting phase and has bitten many family members. He also noted that the baby had recently spent some time in the hospital, “They called it resolved viral syndrome after a week of treatment … but she went in for a lumbar puncture, which we know is a spinal tap to diagnose meningitis.”
Cochran called 911 on February 6th to report her daughter was having trouble breathing. The child was taken to John City Medical Center in Tennessee. Medical staff at the hospital reported the case as possible child abuse to the police. Later that night, the infant was flown to East Tennessee Children’s Hospital in Knoxville where she died on February 8th.