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Psych Exam Requested In Baby Case

Pregnant with her fifth child, Chytoria Graham often walked the streets of her working-class neighborhood, happily pushing her 1-year-old in a stroller while the other children walked alongside her.

"I've never seen her without her kids," said Loretta Ritchie, who lives near Graham. "She always kept the girls' hair combed, dressed real pretty."

But now Graham's children have been taken from her by authorities — except for 4-week-old Jarron. He is in a hospital after a horrific event that has stunned police and prosecutors, and prompted strangers who read about him to offer to adopt the boy: Authorities say she grabbed the infant by his feet and swung him, hitting her boyfriend and fracturing the baby's skull.

"Unfortunately, I have seen child abuse cases upfront," said Capt. Frank Kwitowski, a 20-year Erie police officer. "But this is the first time I've seen a child actually picked up and used as a weapon."

David Kolko, a professor of psychiatry, psychology and pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh, said child abuse most often happens because of a direct conflict with the child. This case, though, doesn't seem to follow the rule.

"But we only hear about the tragedies and the bad cases and we assume this is an exception," Kolko said. "We have a very skewed view of what physical abuse means."

The abuse Graham is accused of is rare, but not unheard of, said Judith Cohen, medical director of Allegheny General Hospital's Center for Traumatic Stress in Children and Adolescents, a Pittsburgh center that sees more than 300 patients annually.

"Many children die every year from their parents beating and battering them," she said.

Erie County's Office of Children and Youth, like other child welfare agencies in the state, can't comment on whether Graham had a history of abuse. But defense attorney Alison Scarpitti said: "There's nothing in her background (to indicate) she would do anything to harm a child."

Police say Graham told them she had been drinking and "snapped." Her attorneys say Graham, who is unemployed and lives with her boyfriend, 20-year-old Deangelo Troop, could be suffering from postpartum depression, possibly even battered-woman syndrome.

Police were told Thursday that Jarron, who was delivered by Caesarean section Sept. 11, was in serious but stable condition in a drug-induced coma at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh. The baby emerged from the coma on Friday, according to police.

Police arrived at Graham and Troop's apartment at about 3:30 a.m. on Oct. 8, finding broken household items, furniture knocked over and paramedics treating Jarron.

Graham told investigators she was out drinking the night before and argued with Troop when she got home. The argument turned to shoving and pushing.

As Jarron lay in bed wrapped in a blanket, police say, Graham grabbed the infant and swung him at Troop.

When Graham put the child down, they said, Troop punched her in the eye. Graham called 911.

Graham was jailed in lieu of $75,000 (euro59,760) bail, charged with aggravated assault, endangering the welfare of children, simple assault and reckless endangerment.

Scarpitti said her client was traumatized and kept inquiring about Jarron and her other children. Scarpitti wants Graham to undergo psychological evaluation.

David Agresti, defense co-counsel, believes there's no doubt that Graham is a victim of domestic abuse. "Neighbors have stated it was routine at the house," he said. Police are investigating.

Graham has no criminal record; Troop was arrested in June and charged with possession of crack cocaine and other crimes for allegedly fleeing from police after being involved in a domestic dispute, court records indicate. He faces a preliminary hearing in November.

Graham's other children, ranging in age from 9 to 1, are in the custody of their maternal grandmother, Gloria Graham. Troop is the father of the 1-year-old and Jarron.

Scarpitti says Graham remembers little about the incident.

"She remembers walking in that night and she remembers her baby after the incident," Scarpitti said. "She doesn't remember her time with police."

Agresti insists Graham's possible mental state shouldn't be ignored.

"Using the child as a weapon — that is not a symptom that is so common," said Koushik Mukherjee, a psychiatrist with Mercy Behavioral Health in Pittsburgh.

Postpartum depression can lead to psychotic behavior in some women "where they can get aggressive or violent toward the baby, where they don't want the baby," he said.

Investigators are focusing on facts, not speculation about Graham's mental state.

"The facts are there's an injured baby and (Graham) said she did it," Kwitowski said. "The arguments come later."

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