Two medical experts testified Tuesday in Fayette Circuit Court about whether vinegar caused the death of a 5-year-old Lexington boy nearly four years ago.
The testimony came during a hearing to determine whether Fayette Circuit Judge Pamela Goodwine will allow pathologist Cristin Rolf to take the stand at trial and say that a lethal dose of vinegar killed Joseph Adams in December 2011. He died after his parents gave him vinegar to force him to vomit after he drank a large amount of milk.
His mother, Deah Daniele Adams, was charged with reckless homicide in September 2012 and pleaded not guilty. She is free on bond pending trial.
On Tuesday, Rolf testified remotely via Skype.
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Rolf said that in conducting an autopsy, she discovered bruises on Joseph's head, back and torso; bruises and scratches on his chin and jaw line; and fingernail marks on his arms. Rolf said the marks were evidence of blunt-force trauma and indicated Joseph was administered the vinegar forcibly.
She said Joseph's bowels were abnormal in appearance, and his insides were "permeated with the odor of vinegar." His spleen was wrinkled and discolored, she said, and his insides were "uniformly gray."
A large dose of vinegar was the only explanation, Rolf said.
"I can't think of anything else that would do this," she said.
She gave the cause of death as metabolic acidosis, which occurs when the body produces an excess amount of acid or can't remove enough.
She said 70 percent of Joseph's colon had been removed because of a medical condition, and a large amount of vinegar overwhelmed his organs and offset the pH balance in his blood.
According to his parents, Deah and Rick Adams, Joseph had Hirschsprung's disease, and they were cautious in giving him dairy products.
Hirschsprung's disease is a condition that affects the colon and causes problems with passing stool, according to the Mayo Clinic website.
The defense questioned the viability of Rolf's theory, arguing that no existing literature gives credence to the idea that someone could consume enough vinegar that it would be lethal.
The defense argued that Rolf's theory had not been submitted to peer review, that Rolf herself admitted never having seen such a death despite overseeing thousands of autopsies, and that it would be impossible to know what the lethal dosage of vinegar was even if it were possible to overdose.
Testifying for the defense was gastroenterologist Craig McClain, who said that he couldn't find one case of someone dying because of vinegar and that there was no literature to support the theory.
"There's just not data out there," McClain said. "It just doesn't make medical sense."
He also said Joseph more likely died from aspiration.
Prosecutors argued that induced vomiting can cause aspiration.
Also in court was Lexington police detective James Jeffries, who handled the case in 2011. Jeffries said he spoke with both parents on several occasions, and their accounts mostly agreed, except for how much vinegar they gave Joseph.
Jeffries said Rick Adams admitted slapping Joseph while fighting with him to take the vinegar.
The hearing will resume at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday.