Toddler's stepmom pleads guilty
By Sabrina Bates, Chief Staff Writer
Posted: Tuesday, September 30, 2008 3:11 pm
After one year in the custody of his maternal great-grandparents, Austin Cash has “made progress, but he has a long way to go.”
That was how his great-grandfather, Robert Cash of Milan, described the toddler now in he and his wife Doris’s care during a court hearing Thursday for the stepmother accused of severely beating Austin one year ago.
Tiffani Callahan-Griffin, 25, of Martin pled guilty to one charge of aggravated assault in front of 27th Judicial District Circuit Court Judge William Acree.
Callahan-Griffin and her estranged husband Wesley were initially charged with aggravated child abuse in July 2007 after Austin was taken to a local emergency room suffering seizures.
Investigators from the Martin Police Department were called to the medical facility after emergency personnel noticed the toddler had severe bruising to his forehead, face and arms. Austin was immediately flown to Le Bonheur Children’s Medical Center in Memphis for “life-threatening injuries,” according to a press release issued by Martin police last year.
During the couple’s preliminary hearing in August 2007, Dr. Karen Lakin, a pediatric physician and medical director for the child treatment center at Le Bonheur, testified Austin had suffered two skull fractures and was unresponsive when he arrived at the children’s hospital in Memphis.
His head injuries prompted a surgical implant of a permanent shunt to “alleviate constant fluid buildup on his brain.”
“He will not be able to survive without the shunt placement. This is something that he will have to have the rest of his life because of the risk of fluid build-up on the brain and secondary infections,” Dr. Lakin added.
District Attorney General Tommy Thomas reiterated during the court hearing Thursday what Dr. Lakin had said in court more than one year ago. The pediatric physician confirmed Austin’s injuries were similar to Shaken Baby Syndrome and were not consistent with an accident.
“He was violently shaken and his head was struck by something very hard,” Dr. Lakin reported.
The brain injuries the toddler suffered have impacted his cognitive abilities. Before the incident that prompted the arrest of the toddler’s caregivers, the child was described as a very verbal, active 19-month-old. Now he has to be fed through a feeding tube, according to his great-grandfather.
“He still does not have control of his left arm because of the stroke. He can crawl around, but he cannot walk. He babbles a bit. He still has seizures. We just got back from taking him to Le Bonheur on Sunday. They changed his medicine and we’re hoping that will help,” Robert Cash said.
Austin is now almost three years old.
His stepmother pled guilty to one count of aggravated assault Thursday morning.
She was originally indicted on a Class A felony count of aggravated child abuse and a Class C felony count of aggravated assault.
The Class C felony carries a sentence range of three to six years in prison or probation. The original charge of aggravated child abuse was dismissed.
Thomas asked Acree to consider additional testimony by Dr. Lakin before sentencing Callahan-Griffin. The judge agreed and set a tentative sentencing date of Nov. 18.
Austin’s biological father, Wesley Griffin, 21, has yet to enter a plea or go to trial for the accusation of child abuse. Griffin is scheduled to report back to court at 9 a.m. Oct. 9.
If Griffin enters a plea, Acree announced he would sentence both the father and stepmother the same day.
A soft cry could be heard from the toddler’s family members as Callahan-Griffin entered her plea.
“It’s sad. We don’t think that sentence is long enough for what she did to Austin. He will suffer for the rest of his life,” Robert Cash said.
Callahan-Griffin is represented by attorney Cynthia Chandler Snell of Humboldt. Public defender Colin Johnson represents Wesley Griffin.