Paulette and Kelly Welch were living an idyllic life in Idaho Falls, Idaho. They had adopted two children through the church, were active in the community and by all accounts, Paulette seemed to be the perfect mother.
The Welch's dream turned into a nightmare when, they say, their toddler fell from a chair and died. Did Stockton's death occur the way they claimed? 48 Hours investigates the mysterious death of a baby boy and charges of murder.
On the morning of May 1, 1999, Paulette Welch says her 19-month-old son, Stockton, was climbing on a chair when she briefly left him to tend to her 4-year-old daughter. When she heard a thump coming from the other room she ran back and saw that Stockton had fallen and was nearly unconscious.
Paulette and Kelly rushed their son to the emergency room. Physician Jeff Keller was on duty that day and diagnosed Stockton with a severe brain injury that required emergency surgery.
Also, Dr. Keller surmised the boy's injury could not have been sustained from one short fall. He believed that someone had hurt the child through violent shaking. "I've seen children who have fallen out of second story windows. I've seen children who've fallen off roofs and I tell you from my experience, this sort of fall does not cause that injury." said Dr. Keller.
All the hospital doctors agreed that Stockton suffered from Shaken Baby Syndrome, a widely recognized form of child abuse that often results in brain injury and sometimes death.
When Stockton died on the operating table, authorities began compiling a homicide investigation. Shortly after her son's funeral, Paulette Welch, the last adult to see him alive, was charged with first-degree murder.
The Welches emphatically denied the charge. Family and friends rallied behind Paulette, raising $100,000 for her legal defense.
The prosecution relied on the hospital's claim that Stockton showed definitive signs of being shaken to death.
But the defense brought in an expert witness. Dr. Ronald Uscinski is one of a small group of maverick doctors who think Shaken Baby Syndrome is both unproven and over-diagnosed. "You'd better be darned sure that you can prove what you're saying that you can show it in a laboratory that it really exists. And that hasn't happened yet, said Uscinski.
As it turned out, medical evidence played no role at all in deciding the case. Just before trial, the prosecutor realized Kelly Welch, Paulette's husband, came forward to say he was in the house during the 15-20 minute time frame the injury to Stockton occurred.
Convinced it couldn't win a murder conviction, the prosecution offered Paulette a plea bargain requiring a guilty plea to the lesser charge of injuring a child. She received three years probation and no jail time.
Though confident she would have won a court battle, Paulette says she forced herself to plead guilty because it was the only way to guarantee she'd be around to rais her daughter. "She needs a mother and I need her," said Paulette. "Life just doesn't mean anything if I can't be with my family."
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