(WXYZ) - It was a 7 Action News investigation that got results for a Jackson couple accused of killing their little girl.
After the County medical examiner ruled the death of 4-year-old Birklee Giroux a homicide, the state put the couple’s 8-year-old son in foster care.
Just days after our story aired raising serious questions about the medical examiner’s report, the couple got their son back. But their nightmare didn’t end there.
The couple was forced to wait for the results of a special coroner’s inquest. It is a rare hearing where a panel of six jurors decide on an important issue under consideration by the government. In this case, the question was whether the Jackson County medical examiner’s decision was right or wrong when he called little Birklee’s death a homicide.
One of the issues was the cause of the child's death.
“Asphyxia is really the underlying basis of a lot of deaths,” said Dr. Patrick Cho is the Jackson County medical examiner.
He had ruled in the case of 4-year old Birklee Giroux that the manner of the child's death was homicide--that someone was responsible for killing the child.
At the two-day hearing, he stuck to his ruling despite strong testimony from five other medical experts who contradicted him--and his own admission that he didn’t find the kind of evidence that would support his own ruling.
“There were no injuries, no gross injuries that I could see, grossly visible to the naked eye,” Cho told the court. But first, here is how this whole nightmare got started for the Giroux family.
“I still don’t know how to process it,” the child's mother Billie Giroux told 7 Action News. “I’m very much in shock.”
On August 7, little Birklee’s dad found his daughter dead in her bed at their Jackson-area home. Then Cho ruled the cause of death a homicide, stating the child specifically died from asphyxiation.
About two weeks later, on August 22, Brian and Billie Giroux were hauled into court with the prosecutor calling them murderers—that despite the fact that the couple was never charged.
The accusation came from Kati Rezmierski, asst. Jackson Co. prosecutor. During the probate court hearing to determine if the Giroux’s 8-year-old son should be removed from the family home, Rezmierski told the court “Brody didn’t lose his baby sister. She was murdered in her bed, and either Mom or Dad did it.”
With that statement and Cho’s report, the judge ordered child protective services to place 8-year-old Brody Giroux in foster care.
Then on October 19, medical examiners at Sparrow hospital give the prosecutor a scathing second opinion saying the county examiners conclusions are wrong on many levels--and say no one can determine how Birkleee Giroux died.
On Tuesday October 30, a 7 Action News investigation spells out a number of contradictions in the case.
The parents lawyer says authorities have violated the rules by not placing Brody with relatives--the prosecutor says he’s protecting the child, and doesn’t want him coached.
Two days later, on November 1, Brody is returned to his parents, but-- incredibly-- the ordeal for this family wasn’t over.
On December 7, the prosecutor calls a rare coroner’s inquest with a judge presiding, a jury deciding the facts, and the prosecutor asking the questions. There’s no defense attorney representing the Girouxs.
District Court Judge Joseph Filip swears in nearly a dozen witnesses, including the medical examiner whose report set a murder investigation in motion.
Dr. Patrick Cho tried to defend his conclusions.
“Actually, I did not have access to medical records prior to the autopsy,” he admitted. He would read them later, but his statement in court was important because the child who died had experienced febrile seizures. A respected children’s hospital doctor says fever and seizures combined can cause death. But Cho stood by his cause for Birklee's death.
“It was asphyxia,” he told the court. “So if there is a low oxygen state that is suddenly applied to me, my brain is going to take over and I will thrash, I will do whatever to get oxygen back. There would be signs of struggle,” he said.
But Cho admits there were no signs of a struggle anywhere on Birklee's body which brings us to a three page report compiled by four different forensic pathologists at Sparrow Hospital. They were appalled by the homicide conclusion as their director, Joyce deJong testified.
“There were no injuries to her,” she said of Birklee. “There was no evidence of poisoning, there was just nothing to support that finding, other than she died. It was a conclusion that I simply couldn’t even come close to.”
Dr. deJong was the last to testify in the two day coroner’s inquest. When it was over, five of the six jurors agreed the cause of death for 4-year-old Birklee Giroux is “indeterminate” because no expert can say, without serious questions, why a child with her medical history died.
At this stage, the Giroux family tells me they can finally breath and morn the lost of their youngest child, while