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Georgia baby’s decapitation during labor is ruled a homicide by medical examiner

Jessica Ross and Treveon Isaiah Taylor filed a lawsuit last year alleging their obstetrician used “ridiculously excessive force” while delivering their child, resulting in decapitation and death.
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An attorney representing a Georgia couple whose baby was decapitated during delivery last year said Wednesday that the hospital and their obstetrician were not forthcoming about the baby’s cause of death, reiterating allegations from a lawsuit filed last year.

The Clayton County Medical Examiner’s Office said in a news release Tuesday that the baby’s death had been ruled a homicide. 

Roderick Edmond, the attorney representing parents Jessica Ross and Treveon Isaiah Taylor, accused the couple’s obstetrician at the time, Dr. Tracey St. Julian, of failing to inform them that their baby was decapitated after delivery, according to the couple’s lawsuit. 

“Every aspect of the evidence that shows what happened is traumatizing,” Edmond said at a news conference. “It’s something I’ve never seen in my life.”

Ross and Taylor sued Southern Regional Medical Center and their obstetrician, St. Julian, in August, alleging she used “ridiculously excessive force” while trying to deliver their son, who was decapitated, Edmond has told NBC News. At the news conference, Edmond said the lawsuit was still in the early stages of discovery.

The medical examiner’s office ruled the baby’s death a homicide caused by “actions of another person,” according to its news release. The baby’s death directly resulted from a fracture of cervical vertebrae in the spine, it said.

Attorney Roderick Edmond, left, speaks alongside Treveon Isaiah Taylor, Sr., center, Jessica Ross and attorney Cory Lynch, in Atlanta on Aug. 9, 2023.
Attorney Roderick Edmond, left, speaks alongside Treveon Isaiah Taylor, Sr., center, Jessica Ross and attorney Cory Lynch, in Atlanta on Aug. 9, 2023.Sudhin Thanawala / AP file

Taylor, the baby’s father, spoke publicly for the first time at Wednesday’s news event, saying he and his girlfriend were lied to and prevented from touching their son.

“We just want justice for our son,” Taylor said.

The baby, whom the couple named Treveon Isaiah Taylor Jr., did not properly descend during delivery, most likely because of shoulder dystocia, a condition that occurs when a baby’s shoulder gets stuck behind the mother’s pubic bone during labor. Ross’ labor began on July 9. 

Ross asked for a cesarean section while her son “was viable” and was denied one, according to the couple’s lawsuit. Instead, she pushed for three hours without delivering her baby. The pushing phase of childbirth generally ranges from 30 minutes to three hours, according to the Journal of Midwifery and Women’s Health. According to the lawsuit, St. Julian, who is a member of a private practice and not employed by the hospital, tried to deliver the baby vaginally through various methods, including applying traction to the baby’s head. That resulted in decapitation and other injuries, including multiple skull and facial bone fractures, according to the lawsuit. The baby’s body was delivered through an emergency C-section.

Betty Honey, the medical examiner’s chief investigator, became involved in the case after a funeral home overseeing the baby’s services reported it was “unusual” that the medical examiner’s office had not yet been involved, the examiner said in a news release.  

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s Medical Examiner’s Office performed another autopsy on July 14. Honey and Brian Byars, the medical examiner’s office director, consulted with OB-GYNs in October for independent feedback. Honey also contacted a private forensic pathologist on Jan. 18 to review findings to determine the baby’s cause of death, the release says.

A spokesperson for Southern Regional Medical Center said the hospital could not comment on the ruling “due to the ongoing litigation.” In August, the medical center said in a statement that it denies “the allegations of wrongdoing” and that “this unfortunate infant death occurred in utero prior to the delivery and decapitation.” The hospital also said it voluntarily reported the death to the Clayton County Medical Examiner’s Office and is “cooperating with all investigations.”

Neither St. Julian nor her practice responded to a request for comment on the medical examiner’s announcement. 

The lawsuit alleged that St. Julian and nurses at Southern Regional Medical Center “did not meet the standards of care.” Ross and Taylor also said in the lawsuit that they did not get an opportunity to hold their child. 

“We’re going to depose everybody who was in the room,” Edmond said at the news conference. “All the nurses, all the scrub techs — everybody — to find out, essentially, what the hell happened.” 

Maj. Frank Thomas, a Clayton County police spokesperson, said the case is still under investigation and did not provide further details. The case could be referred to the Clayton County district attorney’s office, according to the medical examiner’s office’s release.

It has “been tough on the whole family,” and the couple has sought counseling, Cory Lynch, another attorney representing the couple, said at the conference. 

“They have been strong and resilient with trying to move forward with life and get back to not normal, but a new normal, given the grief that they have sustained,” he said.

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