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Suffolk medical examiner testifies at murder trial of Kings Park man that infant son died of blunt-force trauma to head

Suffolk County Chief Medical Examiner Michael Caplan walks

Suffolk County Chief Medical Examiner Michael Caplan walks through Suffolk County Court in Riverhead after testifying Monday, July 6, 2015 in the trial of Christopher Foster, who is charged with killing his son. Photo Credit: James Carbone

Suffolk County's chief medical examiner testified Monday at the trial of a Kings Park man accused of killing his infant son that the 6-week-old boy died from multiple blunt force impacts to his head.

"I believe it was a combination . . . to his scalp, to his skull and brain that caused him to pass away," medical examiner Michael Caplan said during the murder trial of Christopher Foster, 32.

Foster is charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter in the Oct. 11, 2011, death of his 43-day-old son, Jonathan Hertzler. Prosecutors say Foster never wanted the child and caused the infant's death by fracturing his skull and several other bones.

The trial is in its second week before state Supreme Court Justice William Condon in Riverhead. It is scheduled to continue Tuesday.

Caplan, the chief medical examiner for just over a year, said he did not conduct the infant's autopsy but carefully reviewed all reports related to the case.

Jurors examined nine pieces of photographic evidence related to the baby's postmortem showing his injuries.

Prosecutor Dana Brown asked Caplan to use a mannequin's head of a child to outline the injuries found on the infant.

Caplan drew a V on the right side of the mannequin's head indicating a fracture and a T on the left side of the head also indicating a fracture. The marks extended to the back of the head, about an inch apart.

"In my opinion," said Caplan, explaining his belief that multiple blows struck the baby, "these were produced by two separate impacts."

Caplan also said Jonathan suffered multiple contusions on the scalp, bruises on the sides of his head and up to seven of his left ribs were fractured.

Earlier, Suffolk homicide Det. Al Ciccotto testified that two 911 calls were made the day Jonathan died. One was to the dispatcher about 6:41 a.m. and the other was from the dispatcher to the house after the first call hung up, he said.

The hearing included a videotape of Ciccotto questioning Foster and then the baby's mother, Clarissa Hertzler. In it, he tells the couple police are investigating the child's death. He also tells the couple detectives believe one of them knows how the child died.

Defense attorney David Besso asked Ciccotto if he had been at the crime scene the day of the call. Ciccotto said he hadn't. Besso then asked when would have been the next time Ciccotto interviewed Clarissa Hertzler. The detective said the next time he saw her was the following month after he left victim's assistance forms.

He would not speak to Clarissa Hertzler until June 22, 2012, when the district attorney's office called to tell him Clarissa wanted to talk to him. That same day Ciccotto came to her home with the crime scene unit to retrieve a plastic bag containing a onesie, a couple of baby clothes and two blankets.

Besso asked Ciccotto if he asked Hertzler where that evidence was months earlier. Ciccotto said he did. "Did you document that?" Besso asked. "No," Ciccotto responded, adding that he had it in his notes.

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