An attorney for Tiffani Calise filed an appeal Monday seeking to reverse her murder conviction or grant her a new trial in the 2010 death of toddler Aaliyah Ali, saying the trial judge mistakenly excluded testimony from a defense expert in brain injuries.
Calise’s appeal, citing 18 additional claims of trial error, was filed in Akron’s 9th District Court of Appeals.
The defense expert, John D. Lloyd, a senior researcher in traumatic brain injuries at James A. Haley Veterans Administration Hospital in Tampa, Fla., testified in a pretrial hearing that he believed the forces created by a slip and fall in a bathtub were strong enough to cause the head injuries that killed Aaliyah.
Lloyd cited findings from a laboratory experiment repeated 25 times, using a mannequin mirroring the size and weight of the 33-inch-tall toddler.
The mannequin was the type used by state agencies for testing head injuries in automobile crashes.
In a hearing last April before Summit County Common Pleas Judge Alison McCarty, Lloyd said his findings showed that Calise’s version of how the injuries occurred was scientifically plausible.
McCarty, in a 17-page order issued May 16, barred Lloyd’s testimony from the trial on the grounds that his experiment was “not sophisticated enough nor definite enough to generate an accurate result.”
Calise, who was sentenced to prison for 15 years to life in June, was convicted of murder, involuntary manslaughter and child endangering.
“Tiffani Calise is innocent,” her lawyer, Don Malarcik, said in an interview with the Beacon Journal on Monday.
“She did not murder this little girl. Aaliyah died after she fell in the tub,” Malarcik said.
Calise, who turned 21 in June, said in her trial testimony and in a 911 call she made the night of Aug. 9, 2010, that Aaliyah’s injuries were caused by a fall in the bathtub after Calise turned her back momentarily to get a towel from a linen closet.
She was baby-sitting the 23-month-old toddler at her Green apartment and had given a bath to her own young daughter — Aaliyah’s playmate — that night before preparing the girls for bed.
Four experts agree
When the case went to trial, four medical experts for the prosecution, led by Dr. R. Daryl Steiner, concluded that Aaliyah suffered severe brain injuries from being violently shaken.
Steiner is the longtime director of the child abuse center at Akron Children’s Hospital. He has testified for decades in Summit County and other courts about cases of shaken-baby syndrome.
“The jury did not hear the whole story,” Malarcik said in an interview at the county courthouse. “The truth is, there is sound scientific evidence, proving Tiffani is innocent, that was improperly kept from the jury.”
“When a new jury hears the whole story,” he added, “Tiffani will be found not guilty.”
For his experiment, Lloyd used toy roller skates on the mannequin to simulate a child falling from various positions in an actual bathtub.
“In fact,” McCarty wrote in her ruling, “Dr. Lloyd admitted that he knows of no one else who has ever conducted an experiment of this type with roller skates in order to re-create a suspected, unwitnessed fall.”
Lloyd has a doctorate in ergonomics. He cites his specialty as the study of how the principles of physics determine the force generated and the impact caused by various types of falls.
Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh released a statement about Calise’s appeal, saying expert testimony such as Lloyd’s “must meet several requirements in order to be used in a trial.”
McCarty’s lengthy opinion, Walsh said, found Lloyd’s testimony to be inadmissible because “his methodology is not accepted within the scientific community and he does not have the medical training or experience to establish the cause of a brain injury, particularly in an infant.”
“We are in agreement with Judge McCarty’s finding,” Walsh said.
Ed Meyer can be reached at 330-996-3784 or at email@example.com.