OCTOBER 8, 2003: It is early Wednesday morning, and Little Josef is sick – but no one was aware. On this particular Saturday morning, however, Josef did seem more mischievous than usual. At around 6:00 a.m., he went into the bathroom and smeared toothpaste, Mommy’s lotions, and anything else he could find all over the walls and fixtures in the bathroom, basically trashing it. Seeing the mess, these mild-mannered parents gave Josef another chance — with a warning to behave the rest of the day and help clean up the mess he had created. While many parents would punish such behavior with an immediate spanking, that was not the nature of the Smiths. In this family, spanking was rare and only used as a last resort. This morning, Josef was clearly warned not to cause anymore trouble after the bathroom incident…however, later that morning, he defied his parents and picked on his younger brother and even pulled Sonya’s hair, kicked her, and used curse words at her. Josef had been clearly warned earlier that day, and so after these events, the parents lovingly discipline him with a spanking. During this discipline, Sonya does notice that one of Josef’s eczema scabs had opened up, just under the band of his underwear, and she sees a small drop of blood from the scab. After the spanking, Josef embraces his mother and snuggles with her, promising to behave better.
A brief history of the Smiths’ eczema — Sonya had eczema growing up, and both Jo and Sonya report treating this skin condition (that has no cure) with Cortaid, Neosporin, and lotion. As is the nature of eczema, the extreme itching and rashes can go in and out of remission. Another way to say this is that it can flare up very quickly, but then it can also go away very quickly. Little Josef had a chronic form of eczema. In the past three weeks, it had really flared up…but Joseph and Sonya were not aware of the severity for several reasons: first, Josef had gotten to the age that he did not want his parents in the bathroom when he took a bath, so they were not able to easily notice his eczema in areas normally covered by clothing. Second, it was autumn, and Josef was starting to wear long pants instead of shorts. Third, it had been a busy few weeks with classes meeting in their home, FOX News doing a feature story about them, and attending the Southern Women’s Show. Sonya had been working with little Josef on trying to get him to stop scratching the eczema patches so much. She had consulted their chiropractor, and he had advised for Sonya to keep Josef’s fingernails clipped.
Now — continuing on with October 8th: What Joseph and Sonya did not know on this fateful day was that a Staph infection had entered into Josef’s bloodstream, most likely finding its way into the body through the open scratch marks and sores from Josef’s scratching. This bacterial infection was of the type that once set in motion, can prove fatal within hours. One of the early symptoms of this infection is a fever. Sonya had hugged Josef after his spanking, but she did not pick up on the fever at that time.
The children worked on their home schooling during the midday. Joseph Sr. took his nap at that time since he worked the night shift. Sonya was busy with the baby and working from home for U.S Securities and Associates. The kids enjoyed pizza for lunch. Later in the afternoon, Jo Sr. woke up and Sonya took a nap. Mykel and Josef were doing their own thing – playing around the house and in the playroom.
That evening around 6:00 p.m., Josef watched SpongeBob on television with his daddy. The entire family ate dinner of leftovers and snack foods. Josef remarked that he had a stomachache, and Joseph Sr. noted brown urine when Josef used the bathroom while his dad was also in the bathroom. The brown urine was a sign that the kidneys were now breaking down, and the acid/base balance was off. His dad didn’t realize this fact, however, and Little Josef flushed quickly, just as Big Jo noticed the urine color. Big Jo decided to watch this to see if it reoccurred later in the evening.
At 9:00 p.m., Jo Sr. called the family together to watch their church service broadcast over the Internet. Little Josef was quiet during the service.
At 10:00 p.m., during the closing prayer of this nationwide church service broadcast, the family got on their knees to pray and little Josef began making strange noises during the prayer. They paid no attention to this, because it was not unusual for Josef to have a hard time sitting still during services, especially at prayer-time. At the end of the prayer, the family rose to their feet, but Josef did not get up; in fact, he looked to be having a seizure. Sonya screamed and big Jo bent over his son to see what was wrong. He noticed that Josef was burning with fever. Joseph quickly carried little Josef outside, hoping the fresh cool air would revive him.
At 10:06 p.m., Sonya called 911. Joseph knew CPR, and he started CPR with Josef on the kitchen floor while Mykel stood by his mom to comfort her, for she was appropriately distraught. Everyone was crying and praying and waiting for the medics to come.
At 10:11 p.m., the ambulance arrived at the Smith home. When trying to tell the paramedics what had happened, Sonya reported a seizure-like episode using the word “fit” and “foaming at the mouth” to the paramedics. Police arrived on the scene. Joseph humbly asked permission to ride with the medics as they loaded Josef on the ambulance; they told him he could ride in the front seat, but not in the back with his son. Sonya stayed back with the other two children. The medics wrote, “patient intubated” on their notes, indicating no concern for a head injury, for they did not even put on a C-brace. Josef was intubated and CPR was resumed by paramedics. Epinephrine was given twice to get his heart going. They strapped Josef in for the ambulance ride and took off. Jo Sr. later described it as a very rough ride – hitting bumps and being warned by the driver to “hold on.”
Upon his arrival at the Cobb County Hospital Emergency Room, little Josef was displaying various symptoms that were indicative of Septic Shock – a very serious medical condition causing such effects as multiple organ failure and death, and it occurs in response to infection and sepsis. All of the doctors familiar with Josef’s case agreed that there is a high mortality rate with this type of condition.
One of the key elements for the diagnosis of Septic Shock that needed to be found, however, was evidence of infection, determined through a positive blood culture. The medical staff drew numerous amounts of blood for lab tests – blood gases, enzyme levels, and cultures. The blood results were returned inside 60 minutes and the results came back Gram positive for Coagulase-Negative Staphylococcus in Josef’s blood, which means there was enough bacteria in his blood to show up immediately under a microscope at the time of the test–they did not even have to wait on a culture to grow. His blood tests also revealed a white blood cell count of 21.5 thou/uL – the normal count is between 3.4 and 9.5. Josef’s white blood cell count was 4 to 5 times higher than the normal levels. Unlike what many were led to believe during the course of the trial, this is an incredibly high count. The white blood cell count is clear evidence that there was a severe infection throughout Josef’s body. Other test results on the same lab work only served to confirm the above conclusion.
Josef’s blood enzyme levels showed that he was in a state of “Metabolic Acidosis“which, coupled with other indicators, were symptoms that pointed to his body entering the state of septic shock. As mentioned above, this is a state in which the body goes into shock and begins to shut down. The doctors noted Josef’s skin condition – but immediately called it “markings.” All state doctors testified during the trial that Josef’s skin was the “worst they had ever seen” but none – NOT ONE – called in a skin specialist to see Josef.
Medical personnel were able to get Josef’s fever down to 102.5 F. It had obviously been much higher. A “CAT” scan was done to see if he had a head injury and the result of the scan indicated there was no bleeding, no hemorrhage, no concussion, and no skull fracture. Additional CAT scans were done of Josef’s head, abdomen, chest, and pelvis and they all came back showing “no signs of acute and internal hemorrhage nor significant injury” – which rules out any theory of chronic and acute abuse. Medical personnel did administer antibiotics to Josef, but by now they had been told this was a case of child abuse, and they became so focused on that theory that the state’s doctors missed a very important window of opportunity to treat Josef’s infection that progressed to septic shock. In addition to the general antibiotics, Dr. Tejedorsojo stated that an IV of Dopamine was also started (for blood pressure) because they didn’t see the desired response from the epinephrine and IV fluids. Dobutamine was also administered according to their notes.
During this time of treatment in the Emergency Room, Big Jo was not allowed in the room with his son. He anxiously waited outside, hoping to hear word about little Josef’s condition.
In the meantime, the child was being re-strapped down to be airlifted to Scottish Rite Children’s Hospital – without Big Jo. Upon his arrival at Scottish Rite, Josef was presenting with the following symptoms (per Dr. Keyes):
Hypotension – low blood pressure
Little Josef entered Intensive care and continued with an IV line still in place, as well as assisted breathing (which had been continuously administered since his pick up by the ambulance at home). On medical reports and during the trial, Dr. Tejedorsojo reported that Josef had a very high fever on entering the hospital and the staph infection was evident in the blood. This counteracts some reports that perhaps Josef became infected with Staph bacteria while at the WellStar Hospital earlier that evening; it could not have become that prevalent throughout Josef’s body that quickly.
By 1:00 a.m. on October 9th, the rush to judgment continued. Instead of being allowed to go with his son who was fighting this life-threatening and fast-acting illness, Big Jo is escorted by police to the Crimes Against Children Unit of the Cobb County Police Department. Sonya had also been transported from their home to the Crimes Against Children Unit, while their other boys, Mykel and James, were taken into custody by the Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS). Every family member was placed into a separate room to be interrogated. They were interrogated by the police department for two long, grueling hours on that first night, all while wondering what was happening to little Josef. They all tried their best to cooperate and answer the confusing, circular questions from the detectives…all while trying to hold in the growing concern and emotion over little Josef. The fact is, they were sealing their fates – Joseph and Sonya has already been assumed guilty of child abuse by the police department, and the interrogations were only a way to get words from both of them in order to fill in the blanks.
Jo and Sonya were law-abiding citizens and had never been interrogated before. They were unaware that they did not have to stay at the police station or talk to the police. They were only trying to cooperate to help figure out what happened to Josef; they had no idea of what was truly happening. The police are trained in crime investigation and it is their job to find crime…they are not doctors or skin specialists. And yet they had already assumed the absolute worst and were putting that theory into motion.
Joseph and Sonya were extremely emotional and worried – about Josef, about the other boys, and about one another, for they had no idea what was going on with everyone. The one person who might not be as hysterical would be their 13-year-old son Mykel. That night, Mykel told interrogators that Josef had received some bruising on his head from running into a banister in the home; he also reported that his parents had not seen that incident happen. In addition, in the separate and individual interrogations, all three (Joseph, Sonya, and Mykel) reported throughout their interviews that Josef had been wet with sweat, was burning with fever, and had collapsed during the prayer and did not get up.
For those of you who are familiar with the trial evidence, it is very important to note here that at NO time during any of these interrogations – Mykel’s or otherwise – was there ever a story of a “box” – there was NEVER a BOX mentioned! Likewise, with the home immediately secured as soon as the paramedics and police arrived, there was never any mention of any medical or police personnel seeing or noting any type of “box” on any of their reports or eyewitness accounts.
The night of October 8th-October 9th would be the last that these loving parents would see any of their children…one was on the brink of death; James, the 2-year-old baby, was taken away, and Mykel was taken away. In a two-hour period during the night, Joseph and Sonya would lose all three children and not see them again for over three years.
During her late night interrogation, Sonya could hear baby James crying in another room down the hall, but she was not allowed to attend to him, comfort him, or even see him. Continually in their separate interviews, both Joseph and Sonya asked for news about little Josef to see how he was doing…they were given no answers. After two hours of this, the parents were released to return home – but they were warned by police to stay away from the hospital, and they were informed that James and Mykel had been removed from them by DFACS without a Court Hearing.
Joseph and Sonya returned to their home alone…only to find that their house had been searched by the police and everything was turned upside down. The house was a mess. All the drawers were out of the chests, things were thrown on the floor. The police had even gone through the garbage.
They were worried sick about Josef, they were still in shock about Mykel and James, and now their house had been virtually ransacked. But there was more to come…