At 8:30 on the morning of December 11, 1991, Ronald and Angela Rakow were like a million other tag-team parents. He’d just come home from Mount Sinai Hospital, where he worked as a security guard on the midnight to eight shift. She’d just gone out the door to Dock’s restaurant, where she was a cashier a couple of days a week. They had jobs and kids and no day care. It was a typical day until quarter after four that afternoon, when Ron went to change the diaper of his three-and-a-half-month son, Paul, and found he wasn’t breathing.

The baby was taken to Wyler Children’s Hospital and put on a ventilator, but he was declared brain-dead on December 14. “Baby Paul,” as he was called in the press, was apparently a victim of sudden infant death syndrome. His heart was transplanted into Quinn Kyles, “Baby Quinn,” on December 15. Both babies’ photographs were on the news the next day.

The search for a heart for Baby Quinn had been going on for weeks before he was born. Tests on his mother, Theresa Cropper, had shown that he’d be born with a defective heart and probably wouldn’t live much past birth if he didn’t get a transplant, which would cost about half a million dollars. Cropper’s insurance company didn’t want to pay for a transplant, and the family had gone public. In November Stevie Wonder, a friend of the family, did a show at the Chicago Theatre to raise funds for the operation. After the baby was born on December 2, family, friends, and volunteers called all over the country looking for a heart.

Paul Rakow’s parents had signed the donation papers soon after he was officially declared brain-dead. The day his heart began to beat in Quinn Kyles’s body was Cropper’s 37th birthday. It was “the greatest birthday gift I could get,” she was quoted saying the next morning. The Rakows’ part of the story remained private until that evening, when they appeared in an interview with Renee Ferguson of Channel Five.

Posed together on a bed in front of a blank white wall, Ron and Angela Rakow seemed a strange couple. It wasn’t that he was white and she was black or that he was immense and she was slender. And it wasn’t what they said. It was how they looked and sounded while saying it. She sat practically motionless, one hand in her lap, the other holding one of his. Her voice was calm and her eyes steady. He looked nervous. He kept shifting around on the bed and spoke hesitantly, with a lilt in his voice that made him sound like he came from Liverpool. In the first shot of them both were smiling. Neither cried for the camera.

Ron told Ferguson he’d seen the television reports on the search for a heart for Baby Quinn the night after his son was brought into the hospital and had thought then about donating Paul’s heart if he turned out to be brain-dead. Angela had agreed. “It seemed that unfortunately I might have lost my son, but somebody else would not lose their child,” she said. Ron said that donating his son’s heart made them feel like a part of Paul would live on. “It was really like more like a glad heart than like a sad heart that I made a decision that some benefit should come from a tragedy,” he said, looking at Ferguson sideways from under heavy-lidded eyes.

Back in the studio Ferguson spoke into the camera. “It is unusual that organ donors and recipients are in the same city, even more unusual that the names of those involved in the donor transplant process are known. Transplant teams protect and even insist on anonymity on both sides. Because of the publicity in the Kyles case, the Rakow family learned to whom their baby’s heart had gone, and it was a decision on their part to talk about it.”

Despite their strange demeanor, the Rakows seemed like tragic heroes in a heartwarming Christmas story, momentarily famous and quickly forgotten. By January they’d settled back into obscurity. But four months later, on April 28, 1992, they were back in the news. Ron Rakow had been arrested for murder.

According to the police report, Ron had confessed on April 27 to murdering his son by placing him facedown on a pillow, fully aware that the baby was too weak to raise his head off it. The report read, “The victim’s father smothered the victim with a pillow in a fit of rage, due to the victim’s incessant crying.” The police also charged that he’d wanted to donate Paul’s organs as a way to cover up his crime, though it was his eagerness to donate them that raised suspicions.

There was no medical evidence that Paul had been smothered, and there were no witnesses. The critical evidence against Rakow came from Rakow himself: the statement, handwritten by a state’s attorney, that he’d signed at the police station at 12:45 AM on April 27. Two years later, in August 1994, Rakow testified during his trial that he hadn’t said many of the things attributed to him in the statement, but a jury still convicted him of first-degree murder. In November he was sentenced to 35 years in prison, and in December he started serving his time.

Immediately after the trial Rakow’s attorney, Joseph Cavanaugh, filed a motion to free Ron on bail pending an appeal. “The only evidence that the Defendant committed the crime for which he is charged is the handwritten statement written by the Assistant State’s Attorney,” Cavanaugh wrote, adding that the evidence at the trial had shown “the death of Paul Rakow could not have been caused the way that the State claimed the Defendant stated he caused it.” The motion was denied. In September he filed a motion for a new trial, but it too was denied. Cavanaugh decided he couldn’t afford to go on–Rakow and his family had long since run through their savings. The appeal is now being handled by the public defender’s office.

Sitting in the assistant warden’s office at the Menard Correctional Center, Rakow is fidgety. He talks nervously, incessantly. Cavanaugh once called him a “motormouth,” and he doesn’t deny that he is one. He asks questions, but doesn’t wait for the answers. Yet his eyes, desperate and vulnerable, still search for your approval. It’s an annoying, unsettling combination.

He talks about what happened the day Paul died, about what happened in the police station, about his trial, the verdict, his sentence, his appeal. He says he still feels partially responsible for his son’s death, but he insists it wasn’t murder.

Many of the details of the case laid out during the trial were never disputed. On December 11, 1991, Ron Rakow got home from work, said hi and bye to his wife, and settled in for the next shift of watching the kids. They had three: Angela’s two daughters from a previous relationship, two-year-old Tiffany and four-year-old Tamara, and Angela and Ron’s son Paul.

As every parent knows, the grind of watching young children grows exponentially: one can be difficult, but two are three times as hard to handle. Add a sick, crying baby, and you’ve got one of the hardest jobs around.

Paul had had a cold for about a week. On December 7 he’d been to the doctor, who said he just had a regular cold, nothing to get too worried about. The doctor prescribed some saline drops and told the parents to bring him back if the cold got any worse. On the night of December 10 it did.

Paul had been born at Mount Sinai Hospital on August 23, about six weeks premature. His birth weight was low, about four pounds, four ounces. His lungs were underdeveloped, and he had to stay in the hospital an extra week and a half. He’d had two apnea episodes, when he’d stopped breathing for no apparent reason, since coming home from the hospital. His mother was there both times, and she got his breathing started again by shaking him and yelling. After the second episode she took him back to Mount Sinai.

A doctor ordered her an apnea monitor, which is strapped to the chest of an infant whenever it’s laid down to sleep. Wires from the monitor are attached to electric leads placed on either side of the infant’s chest. If the baby doesn’t draw a breath within the time the monitor is set for, say 12 seconds, a loud alarm goes off. In 1991 the apnea monitor was a parent’s first line of defense against a sudden unwitnessed apnea attack, but it’s no longer recommended. The monitors sometimes went off when they shouldn’t have and sometimes failed to sound when an infant had stopped breathing.

The Rakows received their monitor in late October. By early December Paul’s sisters had lost one set of the electric leads while playing with them. The Rakows had a second set, so they taped the leads to Paul’s chest and left them there. Hooking Paul up to the monitor was a fairly simple matter, and he slept with it on every night.

At night he slept in his parents’ bed, but usually only with his mother, because his father worked from midnight to eight five nights a week. The monitor went off a couple of times when he moved around in his sleep, and the sound was earsplitting. Both parents had heard it.

At nap time they rarely hooked up the monitor, because during the day at least one parent was around to check on him. The family was then living in a one-bedroom apartment, and Paul usually napped in the dining room, which had been converted to a bedroom for the girls. His parents could easily see him from the living room or their bedroom.

On December 11 Paul’s cold seemed bad. He wouldn’t eat. He wouldn’t be comforted. He wouldn’t nap. His father rocked him, bathed him, rocked him some more. The weather was warm, in the 50s. Ron took the three kids outside for some air, and they stayed out for a while. He took a broken carburetor out of the trunk of his broken-down Pontiac, and then they all went back inside. Paul was still miserable, but Ron didn’t take him back to the doctor. It’s a hassle taking three young kids places when you don’t have a car. He would stay home and deal with the situation. He was used to this sort of thing.

Ron was only 25, but he’d been taking care of young children for five years. He had three children from a previous marriage, three boys he didn’t see much anymore. He says he’d worked and come home and looked after them until Thanksgiving of 1990, when he stuck a turkey in the oven, told his wife he was fed up, and walked out. She’d sued for divorce, and he didn’t contest it. She got custody. He’d been paying child support since the divorce, but had begun withholding payments because he thought he wasn’t getting to see the kids enough.

Now the two girls were fighting. Whenever they’d start running around he worried about the landlord’s son who lived below in the basement. The son also worked nights, but he didn’t have any kids. He slept days, and the pounding on the floor above him sometimes kept him up; he’d called his father to complain about it several times.

When Ron told the four-year-old Tamara to cut it out, she told him she didn’t have to listen to him, because he wasn’t her father. The baby was crying, the TV was yapping. But it was late in the afternoon. The shift change was coming up soon. Paul finally ate about four ounces of warm formula. During the trial Ron would testify that Paul “was still kind of fidgety” when he was laid down on a bed in the dining room at about five minutes to four. “He was awake when I laid him down,” he stated. “I laid him face down on the pillow with his head turned to the side. . . . I propped the bottle on the pillow with him.” When asked if he’d been angry with Paul, Ron said no.

Ron also testified that while he was laying Paul down he heard Angela’s key ring jingling outside the door. She was home early. He didn’t hook up the apnea monitor.

Angela would testify that after she walked in she gave Rakow and the girls hugs and kisses, walked close by Paul and saw him lying on his stomach on the bed, then went into the bedroom to ditch her bag and coat. “Paul looked fine to me,” she said. “If anything and I do mean anything was out [of] the ordinary with my son I would have immediately done something, there is just no way possible that I would not have. But as far as I was concerned he looked fine to me.”

Angela would also testify that for five or ten minutes she and Ron talked in the kitchen, where he was preparing a dinner of franks and beans. He told her the girls had been misbehaving. “Tamara had made a statement earlier in the day, she had mentioned to him that she didn’t have to do what Ron said. She made little derogatory comments. She started saying my daddy told me I don’t have to do what you say because you’re not my daddy and I should go in the kitchen and get a knife and stab you and mommy.”

Angela also said that Ron told her that Paul was still sick. “Did Ron express or appear to be angry at Paul?” Joseph Cavanaugh asked her.


“Was there anything unusual that you noticed about his behavior that was different from any other day that you came home or any other time?”


She said she’d asked Ron what the carburetor was doing on the kitchen table, then walked to the living room to talk to Tamara. Tiffany was laughing because her sister was in trouble, and Angela told her to stop it. Most days Angela would change Paul’s diaper after she got home. That day she asked Ron to do it. “He yelled out okay, and I continued my conversation with [Tamara]. . . . She was still saying I didn’t do anything and the next thing I remember Ron yelled out the baby is not breathing. . . . And I jumped up and said what the hell do you mean my baby is not breathing and I took the baby from him.”

In his testimony Ron said, “I left the kitchen and went into our room, I got the diapers and the wipes, and I went into the girls’ room and placed [them] on the edge of the bed, and was going to change Paul’s diaper. . . . I walked to the side of the bed. Paul was on his side, and he was blue around the lips, and his nose–and I picked him up, and he was just floppy. He didn’t move. And I yelled out to Angela, Paul’s not breathing, and she ran over to me and took Paul from me. . . . I took Paul back. I laid him on the girls’ bed and I checked for a pulse, and there was nothing there.”

Ron would later tell doctors and the court that he found Paul in a position different from the one he’d left him in. The baby was facing the opposite direction. His face was off the pillow, and one of his arms was clutched against his chest. His blanket was still pulled up to his waist, and his bottle was on the floor.

Angela called 911 while Ron attempted infant CPR. When he ran out of breath he handed Paul to Angela. But she wasn’t doing the necessary chest compressions, and her mouth covered only Paul’s mouth instead of both his nose and mouth. Ron took him back. They’d been doing CPR for five minutes when the paramedics arrived, but neither had been able to get him breathing again.

Angela rode with Paul in the ambulance to the hospital, and Ron stayed home with the two girls. Paul didn’t breathe in the ambulance, nor did he breathe again until ten minutes after he entered the emergency room. He’d arrived at 4:30, and the doctors’ early estimate was that he hadn’t breathed for at least 20 minutes, probably more. If he’d stopped breathing at five minutes to four, just after he was laid down, he hadn’t drawn a breath for 35 minutes. Three minutes without oxygen is enough to cause brain death. Six minutes makes reviving the victim almost impossible.

Eleven minutes later Paul was on a ventilator and breathing with its help. He regained a pulse. He’d had some brain-stem activity when he arrived, so he hadn’t been brought back from the dead. But his prognosis was poor. He was 17 minutes over the limit for oxygen deprivation at best. He had less than a sliver of a chance of ever breathing again off the ventilator.

Dr. Aaron Zucker, head of the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) at Wyler, first saw Paul shortly after he’d been put on the ventilator, at around 5 PM. At the trial Zucker would testify, “The baby . . . still appeared lifeless, did not move. When we examined the baby to see what he could do, we pinched his extremities to see if he would respond to the pain, and he did not. His pupils were wide and fixed and dilated, which made us know that they were not working at that time.” Zucker said that at that point, around 6 PM, he went to talk to the family.

Only Angela and her mother, who’d arrived in a cab, were available. Ron was still home with the girls. Zucker talked to the two women for about a half hour. “After many minutes without a heartbeat, the potential for brain recovery is very, very small, and if you do recover, there is a great likelihood of devastated neurologic function,” he testified he told Angela. “I needed to get that point across to her.”

Zucker left the hospital at around 8:30 that evening, and a resident, Dr. Theresa LeMaire, was left in charge of the PICU. At about 9 PM Paul, still on the ventilator, was sent upstairs to the PICU, where he was given a room and assigned a nurse to watch over him.

Angela testified that at some point that evening, after Zucker left and before Ron arrived, a woman doctor–whose name she couldn’t remember on the stand, though most likely it would have been LeMaire–asked if she’d consider donating Paul’s organs. “I wasn’t thinking about that,” Angela stated. “I just wanted my son home. And I said I would consider it, that I would give some thought.”

Angela talked with Ron on the phone three or four times before he arrived, sometime between 9:30 and 10 that night. He’d had to wait until his brother-in-law could come look after the girls, and then it took over an hour to get a cab to come to their south-side address.

Angela said the woman doctor also talked about donating organs to her and Ron after he arrived. “She introduced herself and explained to him what was going on and asked did we talk about it, would we consider it, did we need any help, she was there to help us.” She said the doctor phoned the Regional Organ Bank of Illinois (ROBI) after talking with the two of them. “I had stated to her that I did want more information and we walked into her office. She made a phone call and she gave me the phone. As I stated earlier they asked questions that I had no answers for so I gave her the phone and she gave them the information that they needed.”

Ron said the same thing during his testimony. He couldn’t remember the doctor’s name either, but then he couldn’t remember the name of anyone he’d spoken with at the hospital except Zucker. “Did you request information about organ donation before the subject was brought up to you?” he was asked. “No, I did not,” he replied.

ROBI has no record of a call made that evening about donating Paul’s organs. But their records, subpoenaed for the trial, show that a call about his organs was made earlier in the day, at 5 PM. The caller was listed as T. LeMaire.

Yet LeMaire’s report, written at 10:30 PM and later made part of the trial record, states, “I was approached by the mother & father of this unfortunate child requesting “no resuscitation’ status and also request to speak to organ donation team.”

According to Ron’s testimony, LeMaire talked to them that night for a half hour to 40 minutes. They also discussed what measures could be taken for Paul. The Rakows didn’t want him to suffer, and the measures already taken to jump-start his breathing had looked painful–his body had twitched and jerked. They opted to keep Paul on the ventilator and pray for a miracle.

LeMaire wrote in the same report: “Although his prognosis is extremely poor and recovery is extremely unlikely, he still has minimal signs of some brain stem and possibly cortical activity (gasping resp., minimal movement to deep pain). I felt all life support currently being used should remain in place. They agreed we would continue ventilation, treat hypotension [with] IVF, correct acidosis and hyperkalemia but in the event Paul’s heart stops, we will not perform chest compressions nor give emergency cardiac meds.”

LeMaire did not testify at the trial (nor could she be contacted for this article). Joseph Cavanaugh assumed the prosecutors would call her, but they didn’t.

Cara Bingenheimer, the nurse assigned to Paul, testified at the trial that she spoke to Ron at Paul’s bedside that first night. She said Ron “asked how the baby was doing, and at some point in time during the night, I don’t remember if it was the initial meeting of them, he brought up DNR status, which is a do-not-resuscitate order, and organ donation.” She also said that she’d told Ron an autopsy would have to be performed before any organs could be donated and that he’d told her he was opposed to having one done.

At the trial the reason he gave was that Angela had had a stillborn daughter autopsied in 1986 and had been horrified by the idea of autopsies ever since. She testified, “At [my daughter’s] funeral I had noticed she looked like a baby but there was just something not right. She was wearing a white bonnet covering up pretty much most of her head and if you looked at her carefully you would notice in the top of the head it was sinked in. And I touched her head and you can feel the skull, something, different pieces in it sank down. So I took her bonnet and pulled it up so it would be a lot less noticeable.”

“We didn’t want him taken apart like he’s nothing,” Ron testified. “He was something. He was our little baby.”

Bingenheimer was also asked about Ron’s behavior that night. She described him as nervous. “Very tense. Wanting to know how the child was doing, but not necessarily waiting for the answers to the questions before he would move on to the next question. There were times when I thought he was caring and loving towards the child, but it was never on a consistent basis, and it was more dependent on who was within earshot. If there was a nurse around that he knew was around, then–” Her testimony was cut off by Cavanaugh’s objection.

She also said she hadn’t seen Ron cry that night, but Cavanaugh pointed out that her patient report stated, “Mom and dad here, in for visit, tearful.”

Ron remembered praying with Bingenheimer at Paul’s bedside. He also remembered she said Paul looked cute. “And when I was looking at him, his head was so swollen. It was, it was unbelievable. He had tubes coming out of his nose, his mouth, IV sticking in arms and legs and his feet, and I just said, yeah, he was cute.”

Ron, Angela, and her mother spent most of that night together in the PICU’s “cry room.” They had the room to themselves. Ron had brought a Bible with him, and they prayed, talked, and cried. They didn’t sleep. Bingenheimer wrote in her patient report: “Any time parents at bedside, very loving, touching each other. Speaking to and touching Paul.”

The next morning, December 12, Ron, Angela, and her mother went home. Ron and Angela returned late that afternoon and again spent the night at the hospital.

Bingenheimer was also asked at the trial about Ron’s demeanor that night. “Well, it varied. When he was telling myself and the resident his version of what had happened, he appeared very nervous, was in constant motion, unable to stand still. There were other times when he was laughing and joking at the bedside of the child, and just did not appear to be saddened or grieving.”

On the third day, December 13, the Rakows again went home for a few hours, then came back to the hospital. Early that afternoon Dr. Zucker did an apnea test, turning the ventilator down to see if Paul would breathe without help. He didn’t. After that test, Zucker later testified, “I had a first-time clinical evidence that the baby was brain dead.” One test isn’t sufficient to declare brain death, but before performing a second Zucker wanted to have a conference with the parents.

He met with the Rakows for about an hour later that afternoon and told them the results of the test. It was the first time he’d met Ron. “He began to ask me a lot of questions,” Zucker testified, “and to–I wrote them in my notes, intellectualized scenarios about what he thought had happened. I had difficulty actually getting into the conversation myself. It was pretty much a one-way conversation from the beginning. At times, to make sure I heard from [Angela] as well, I would ask her specific questions and look right at her. He actually would answer almost for her or over her, so he dominated the conversation for a long time.” Zucker noted that one of the things Ron said was that he blamed himself for not attaching the apnea monitor.

Ron testified that he knew he was irritating Zucker. “I think I seemed to frustrate him because I wasn’t waiting for him to complete his answers, because I had just a lot of questions and wanted to know what was going on and what had happened, and why did this happen.”

Zucker stated that Angela took over the conversation when he brought up the subject of an autopsy. “I told them that because this is an unexplained death, because we had no way at that point to know what had happened, that would be a mandatory call to the Medical Examiner’s Office, and they would almost certainly mandate an autopsy. . . . Mrs. [Rakow] got extremely upset. I don’t exactly remember the exact words, but declared she would not go along with an autopsy. I knew that she had talked to people the first night when she came in about this, an autopsy concept as well, so I expected that.”

“I told him he wasn’t butchering my son,” Angela testified. “I didn’t want a damn autopsy I just wanted them to leave my son alone. . . . I left, I stormed out of the room.” She also described Zucker as “very cold, very callous . . . heartless.”

Cavanaugh later asked her to explain why she was opposed to autopsies but not donating organs (she’d also donated her stillborn daughter’s corneas). “From what I know of it in an organ donation it’s done pretty much the same way surgery, open heart surgery or removal of a kidney or a liver or replacement of a kidney or liver,” she responded. “The difference in that and with an autopsy the body is cut open, tissue samples are taken, the head is cut open, the brain is removed. It’s completely different.”

Ron testified, “We consented to the organ donation because we felt that it made us feel better knowing that a part of him lived on. We were told that we wouldn’t know who would get what, but that it was a way of helping us to cope with what had happened. And with regards to the autopsy, we didn’t want an autopsy done at the hospital because it just seemed like Dr. Zucker wanted to research him, wanted to know what caused him to, you know, what was the SIDS. Everything we were told was that it was, it was SIDS.”

The Rakows spent that night too at the hospital, leaving again the next morning, December 14.

Early that afternoon Zucker did the second apnea test and at 12:35 declared Paul brain-dead. Zucker paged Ron, wanting him to come to the hospital to sign papers. Ron remembers calling back and saying he’d be a while. Zucker waited for him until late that afternoon but finally had to leave.

Ron had gone with Angela to Paul’s pediatrician, Dr. Deatra Young, to ask whether an autopsy truly was mandatory. When Young told them it was, they agreed to have it done, as long as someone besides Zucker did it. Young would later testify that she told them the autopsy could be done by the medical examiner’s office, and they accepted that.

The Rakows arrived at the hospital late that day, signed the organ-donation papers, and took turns holding and hugging Paul’s body, which was still on the ventilator. The two went home at 4:30 AM.

On December 15 several of Paul’s organs were removed. His heart went to Baby Quinn, his liver to a baby in Minnesota. His eyes were sent to a Forensic Institute laboratory to see if there’d been hemorrhaging in the retinas, which would indicate he’d been shaken hard.

The autopsy was completed on the morning of December 17 by Dr. Robert Kirschner, deputy chief medical examiner at the Cook County office. His report on his external examination, which became part of the trial record, states, “The ears and nose are normal. The oral cavity is free of obstruction. The neck is unremarkable. . . . There are no old or recent injuries to the body. There are no contusions, abrasions or lacerations. There are no skeletal injuries. The infant appears well nourished and normally developed. There are no congenital anomalies.” The report on his internal examination also notes nothing remarkable, though Kirschner would later testify that Paul’s lungs had petechial hemorrhages, which are much more common in SIDS cases than in suffocation deaths.

That afternoon Paul’s body was delivered to the funeral home. The Rakows were upset by the condition of the body. There was a small black indentation that seemed like a cigarette burn in the center of his forehead. String held his torso together, and his eyes were still missing, as they hadn’t been returned from the Forensic Institute lab. Both parents tried to talk about how he looked at the trial, but the judge wouldn’t permit them.

Paul was buried on December 21 in Oakridge Cemetery in Hillside.

On January 6, 1992, a police detective and an investigator from the Department of Children and Family Services did an investigation of the Rakows’ home, something mandated for all suspected SIDS cases. The report was signed by Sharon O’Connor, the DCFS investigator, on January 9.

The report reads, “Subject was last fed at 1555 hrs. and last seen alive at 1600 hrs. on 12/11/91 when subject’s father layed him down and went into the kitchen. When father walked back he looked at subject saw he was in an “unnatural position,’ (he was laying on his right side with his arm up against his chest.) (Photos 1 & 2.) Subject was under the covers but they were pulled up to around his waist only. There was no pillow or blanket on or around subject head or face. . . . [The parents] also stated that they were able to cope better with the death of the subject because they were able to donate organs. Both parents were cooperative and supportive of each other.”

The report was later used by prosecutors in an attempt to show that Ron had told different stories to different people about how he’d laid Paul down on December 11. He’d told doctors at the hospital that he’d put the baby facedown on a pillow with his head turned to the side. The police interviewed O’Connor on April 28 and wrote in their report, “Ms. O’Connor stated that the victim’s father had told her that he had fed the baby and laid him down with no pillows or blankets near enough to harm him. . . . The R/Ds [reporting detectives] noted that this was in contrast to what Ronald Rakow had told Dr. Zucker and other members of the PICU at Wyler Hospital.”

But when O’Connor was cross-examined by Cavanaugh she said she’d reported only on how Ron had found the baby, not on how he’d laid the baby down. And she said she couldn’t even remember asking Ron how he’d laid the baby down.

The medical examiner’s office apparently saw nothing suspicious in the report, nor in the report from the Forensic Institute lab, which stated that Paul’s retinas did not indicate he’d been shaken. On January 13 a death certificate was issued by Kirschner listing SIDS as the cause of Paul Rakow’s death. Only after Kirschner talked to police four months later did he rule that Paul’s death was a homicide.

SIDS, also called crib death, is quiet. The baby may make some noise thrashing around–infants who die from it are often found in a position different from the one they were left in–but they don’t cry out. Most of them would be saved if they did. Fear of the sudden death of a baby is something parents can feel in the bones–it’s a fear that propels them into a baby’s bedroom while it’s sleeping, just to check, just to make sure it’s still breathing.

SIDS, which only became a recognized medical syndrome in 1969, is listed as the cause of death when an otherwise healthy infant suddenly dies for no apparent reason. No one knows what causes SIDS, and there’s no definitive way to tell whether an infant died of SIDS or from being suffocated with so little force that there’s no sign of a struggle.

SIDS is the leading cause of death in healthy infants in the United States, killing 6,000 to 7,000 infants each year, and it’s second to birth defects as a killer of children under a year old. It may have something to do with abnormalities present but not discovered before the baby’s born. Infant apnea may or may not increase the risk. Prematurity and low birth weight, especially in combination, definitely do. More boys die of SIDS than girls, and the most likely victims are between two and four months old. A baby with a cold is at a somewhat higher risk, and the winter months claim the highest number. Black infants die of SIDS more often than white. In Illinois during the 1980s the ratio of black SIDS deaths to white SIDS deaths was four to one, though fewer black babies now die of it. Low socioeconomic status is a risk factor.

But the risks can be minimized. The chances of occurrence are lessened if the mother doesn’t smoke, and if soft, heavy bedding and pillows, which have played a part in some deaths, are not used in the child’s crib. Studies conducted worldwide have also shown that sleep position has a major impact on SIDS rates.

Two years ago the New York Times reported that after a campaign in England to get parents to put their babies to bed on their backs or on their sides the number of crib deaths was cut in half, from 912 in 1991 to 456 in 1992. The SIDS rate in Tasmania had been twice that in the rest of Australia, but after a similar campaign the rate dropped by more than half. Campaigns in the Netherlands and New Zealand also reduced SIDS rates.

But sleeping prone doesn’t cause SIDS. After all, millions of babies have been put to bed that way since pediatricians began recommending a facedown sleep position in the 1960s. That position seemed to make sense at the time. Researchers had found that premature babies breathed easier lying on their stomachs. They also knew that babies tend to spit up, so a baby lying on its stomach would be less likely to choke on its own vomit. The 1992 decision of the American Academy of Pediatrics to change its recommendation and start telling parents to put their babies to bed faceup was controversial, and it’s still somewhat controversial today. Yet SIDS rates in the United States have declined since then.

A report in the July 1994 issue of Pediatrics, “Distinguishing Sudden Infant Death From Child Abuse Fatalities”–written by a committee that included Dr. Robert Kirschner, the man who did the autopsy on Paul Rakow–states that less than 5 percent of apparent SIDS deaths turn out to be from abuse. It lists things that might indicate that a death was not due to SIDS: “Previous episodes of apnea in the presence of the same person, previous unexplained medical disorders such as seizures, age at death older than 6 months, and previous unexpected or unexplained deaths of one or more siblings or the previous death of infants under the care of the same, unrelated person.”

The report then makes suggestions for handling the parents of children who die of SIDS. “All parents should be provided with information about SIDS and the telephone number of the local SIDS support group. The majority of sudden infant deaths occur at home. Parents are shocked, bewildered, distressed, and often feel responsible. Parents innocent of blame in their child’s death feel guilty nonetheless, imagining ways in which they might have contributed to or prevented the tragedy.” The report ends by recommending that multidisciplinary teams of well-trained professionals “with expertise in SIDS” be created to review fatalities. “If all professionals involved in handling infant deaths are well-trained and cooperate in a multidisciplinary approach, most deaths due to child abuse can be distinguished from sudden infant deaths and grieving families treated with compassion.”

A couple of weeks after Paul died Dr. Aaron Zucker went to one of the hospital’s attorneys and said he felt uneasy about the baby’s death. He would testify at the trial, “I got extremely concerned that something more was going on here than met the eye. . . . Both Mr. and Mrs. Rakow had brought up the topic of do not resuscitate spontaneously, organ donation possibility spontaneously, right from the very first night the baby had come to the hospital. . . . The fact that it was brought up almost immediately upon arrival I found very unusual. Not just unusual, but completely out of my experience in 15 years.”

He also testified that as far as he knew the hospital hadn’t contacted the organ bank prior to Ron’s arrival, but added, “I do not know for a fact who first contacted them.” Apparently he was unaware that Dr. Theresa LeMaire had called the organ bank at 5 PM, only a half hour after Paul arrived at the hospital. Zucker also said it was against hospital policy for a doctor to call about organ donation before being approached by the parents.

After Zucker talked to the hospital lawyer, the lawyer called the police, and the police began an investigation. They interviewed Zucker on January 8.

On February 2 Detective Joseph Fine and his regular partner, Patrick McDonald, interviewed Ron’s ex-wife, Vivinia. Fine would testify at a pretrial hearing that she’d told him she’d come home from work on October 17, 1989, to find their three-month-old son, Timothy, who’d been fussy that day, in a “catatonic” state, though when she testified she said she didn’t know what that word meant.

Vivinia testified at another pretrial hearing that she’d asked Ron what was wrong with Timothy, and for about 20 minutes he’d said “nothing.” Then he’d broken down and said he’d put him on the dining-room table to change his diaper, and when he’d gone away for a second to help his older son the baby rolled off the table, hit a chair, and fell to the floor. It was in the hospital report that she’d told doctors that Ron had said he didn’t know Timothy could roll over. But she testified that she knew it wasn’t an accident.

She said she’d taken the baby to the emergency room at Edgewater Hospital, and after she got home noticed bruises on his back that formed a handprint. The medical records show that Timothy was able to move when he arrived, and they make no mention of a handprint or abuse. The doctor who’d examined him also testified at Ron’s trial, saying he hadn’t noted a bruise in the shape of a handprint, and that if he had he would have reported it, because he was a mandated reporter.

Detective Fine and Detective James O’Leary brought Ron Rakow to the police station the night of April 26. O’Leary was not Fine’s regular partner, and it was his first day on the case. According to Fine’s testimony, neither man was aware that the cause of Paul Rakow’s death had been listed as SIDS. (They could not comment on the case because they may be called to testify again.) They would later testify that it was when they confronted Ron with Vivinia’s allegations sometime during the second of three interviews conducted that night that he broke down and told them what had really happened to Paul. Fine stated at a pretrial hearing that Ron said, “She’d hug Timothy, kiss Timothy. It was everything for Timothy and nothing for me.” Fine didn’t write Ron’s words down, but he said he’d never forget them.

In his testimony Ron said Detective Fine had asked him questions about Timothy, but he’d told them the baby had been taken to the emergency room the next day “just for, to make sure that he was okay. Just routine.” He said the detectives then started talking about Paul.

“They told me that what I had told Dr. Zucker at the hospital wasn’t what I had told Miss O’Connor, and I told them that I didn’t think so. I mean, I tried to answer everybody’s questions.”

Then, he said, they hit him with a bombshell. “They said, Ron, we have a problem with what you are saying. We know that Paul didn’t die from SIDS. Paul died because of the way you laid him down, and you didn’t have the apnea monitor attached to him. And I started, I just sat there. I didn’t know what to say.”

He testified that the detectives then left the room and were gone for what seemed like an hour. When they returned, “I was on the floor, kneeling next to the chair, crying, praying to God.”

“What were you praying to God for?” Cavanaugh asked.

“Why did this have to happen, because I felt so guilty about what had happened.”

Ron denied that he was crying because of what had been said about Timothy, and denied that he’d said “Everything for Timothy, nothing for me.” He went on, “When they returned to the room, Detective O’Leary sat in front of me and he started talking to me.”

“What did he say?” asked Cavanaugh.

“He said, Ron, we all make mistakes. We all have bad days. The problem is, what are we going to do here. We need to admit to our mistakes. And I told him that I had felt responsible for what happened to Paul, and I just felt really responsible, felt guilty.”

“What did he tell you? What did you say to him then?”

“I told him that I always, I felt that I would be held accountable for this.”

“And why did you feel that way?”

“Because I felt that I had neglected him because I didn’t attach the apnea monitor.”

Ron said that Fine and O’Leary left the room again and Fine returned about 20 minutes later with a man he introduced as Assistant State’s Attorney Henry Simmons. Ron said he and Simmons were alone in the room for the next hour and a half to two hours while Simmons asked questions, wrote things down, and crumpled paper. He said they were interrupted only once, when Angela was brought into the room by police officers.

“She started asking me, baby, what’s wrong, what’s going on. And the Assistant State’s Attorney just looked at [one of the police officers]. He said, she don’t know what’s going on. And the officers shook their head, no, and he said, well, get her the hell out of here. And they asked, escorted her out of the room.”

When Detective Fine testified at a pretrial hearing he said, “After being queried on the unreported cases of child abuse, Ron Rakow began to cry, put his head in his arms. Then, when he regained his composure, he said, ‘Okay. You get your pen ready.’ . . . He told us that the baby had been inconsolable all day. That he just couldn’t take the baby’s crying anymore. That he went into the bedroom and placed the baby face down in a pillow. And disconnected the apnea monitor. He said that the baby–he knew that the only way to stop his baby from crying was to stop him from breathing. We asked him if he knew that the baby would die. He said, ‘Yes. I knew that if nobody came along and picked the baby up, the baby would die.'”

“Did he say anything else?”

“That was the gist of the conversation.”

At the same hearing Detective O’Leary testified, “He told us that his–that the baby continued to cry. No matter what he attempted to do to the baby–to do, the baby wouldn’t stop. He said he knew that the only way he stop the baby from crying was placing him down in the pillow with his head down, disconnected the apnea monitor and he knew the baby would suffocate if nobody came to the baby’s assistance. He left the room and left the baby in the pillow face down.”

“Did he tell you when he next saw the baby?”

“He told us when his wife came home, his wife come into the room and she screamed that the baby wasn’t crying.”

“Did he tell you when in relation to when he placed him down that his wife came home?”

“I don’t recall.”

Assistant State’s Attorney Simmons was asked, “Was [Ron] cooperative with you from the time that you first went in the room until the last time you saw him that evening?”


“And did he appear to be crying?”

“I don’t believe he was crying. I believe that during the writing of the statement he appeared to be sad but not crying that I recall.”

That night Ron talked to Fine, O’Leary, and Simmons for several hours, but the only documentation of what was said is the handwritten statement, excerpts of which read: “After being advised of his constitutional rights and stating that he understood his rights and after he understood that Henry Simmons is an assistant state’s attorney, a prosecutor, and not his lawyer, Ronald Rakow agreed to give the following statement in summary and not word for word.

“Ronald said that he was to watch Paul, Tamara and Tiffany while Angela was at work. Ronald said he would not go to sleep until Angela would come home from work. Ronald said that as soon as Angela left Paul began to cry very loud and Ronald fed him some formula. Ronald said he put Paul in his rocker in front of the TV and Paul continued to cry in a loud manner. Ronald said he could not calm Paul down so he gave Paul some saline drops in his nose and Paul would just cry even more. Ronald said Tamara and Tiffany were watching TV in the living room. Ronald said Paul would not stop crying and Ronald became angry and was starting to get a headache from the crying. Ronald said Paul finally stopped crying for about 10 minutes when he put him in his rocker. Ronald stated that Paul began to cry again.

“Ronald layed Paul down in his rocker, however Paul was still crying very loud. Ronald said that at this point he started to lose it and he became angry at Tamara who was running around. Ronald said he told Tamara to stop running but Tamara told him that she did not have to listen to Ronald. Ronald said Paul was crying throughout this time. Ronald said he took Paul into the girl’s room and sat on the bed rocking Paul in his arms. Paul continued to cry and Ronald became angry and decided to stop Paul’s crying and the only way he could do it was to stop his breathing. Ronald said he placed Paul’s face down on the pillow and said he didn’t give a shit anymore and left him there. Ronald said he also said ‘I don’t give a fuck let your mother take care of you.’ Ronald said he did not want to deal with Paul’s crying anymore. Ronald said the crying really got to him and he could not take it anymore. Ronald said that he did not put Paul’s apnea monitor on him. Ronald said that after he put Paul’s face down into the pillow he walked back into the kitchen and decided that he would wait until Angela came home before Paul’s face would be removed from the pillow. Ronald said he left him alone face down into the pillow and decided not to take the baby’s face from the pillow. Ronald stating that it was a couple of minutes before 4:00 PM when he decided to put Paul’s face down into the pillow. He said Angela came home about 4:00 PM and he started to tell her about how Tamara disobeying him. Ronald said that Angela did not go and pick up Paul since Ronald was talking to her about Tamara. Ronald said that Angela did not have any idea that Paul’s face was face down into the pillow. Ronald said that Paul was face down into the pillow for about 15 minutes before Ronald decided to go into the room. Ronald said Paul was blue in the face and cold. He started CPR and they called an ambulance. Ronald said it was his anger and his frustration with watching the children that made him put Paul’s face into the pillow. He said he just could not take the crying anymore. Ronald said he lied to his wife about what happened. He said he told his wife he layed Paul down with a bottle and a pillow next to him. Ronald said he also lied to every doctor he spoke to. Ronald requested that an autopsy not be performed since he was afraid they would find out that Paul was suffocated. Ronald said that he could not live with himself any longer knowing that he killed his son. He said he could not live with his lies any longer. Ronald said that when the police came to his house on April 26, 1992, he agreed to come into the police station to tell the police the truth about what happened. Ronald said he had lived with his lie too long. Ronald said that the reasons he requested to have Paul’s organs donated was to hide what really happened and to make his wife feel better. Ronald said it was his anger that made him want to stop Paul from breathing.

“Ronald stated that he was treated well by the police and assistant state’s attorney Simmons. Ronald was given water, cigarettes and was offered food but refused. Ronald stated that he was free from alcohol and drugs. Ronald stated that no threats or promises were made to him. Ronald said that he wanted assistant state’s attorney Simmons to write this statement. He read this statement with assistant state’s attorney Simmons and stated that it was the truth about what happened.”

All six pages were signed by Fine, Simmons, and Ron. Twelve areas where words had been crossed out were initialed by all three.

But at his trial Ron testified that he’d read only the first page of the statement, out loud to Simmons. Then he’d just signed where he was told to sign and put his initials where he was told to put his initials.

Defendants in Cook County are supposed to be given a choice if they want to make a statement: it can be oral, court reported, or handwritten. A court-reported statement would have made clear exactly what Ron did say, but he testified that no one offered him that option.

“Did you, at that time, even know what a court-reported statement was?” Cavanaugh asked.

“No, I did not.”

“When was the first time you ever heard the words “court-reported statement’?”

“My bond hearing,” Ron answered.

In California and New York police departments videotape suspects’ statements. In the Bronx, where videotaping statements was pioneered, prosecutors have a 95 percent conviction rate. At first police departments resisted taping statements or confessions, but in the past couple of years more and more police departments across the country have been requesting them.

During the same time, statements handwritten by prosecutors have become more popular in Cook County. Nancy Donahoe, one of the prosecutors at Ron Rakow’s trial, says that handwritten statements in Cook County are common because they’re practical. “Often a suspect will say to an assistant state’s attorney, ‘I’ll tell you this, but I won’t tell anyone else,'” she explains. “So they don’t want a court reporter. The state’s attorney writes the statement to ensure that it’s legible or understandable, and he can also put in the elements that a jury may need to know.” She also says the Cook County state’s attorney’s office doesn’t have tape recorders or video cameras.

But Pat Gleason, an administrator in the public defender’s office who’s been on its Murder Task Force since it was set up in 1973, says the state’s attorney’s office has both. He says they won’t use them, though he isn’t sure why. His contention was corroborated last March, when an assistant state’s attorney named Wayne Meyer testified in a double homicide case that he didn’t know how many video cameras and tape recorders his office owned, but that they’re kept in a storeroom and never used when taking statements.

Shelton Green, a public defender who’s also on the Murder Task Force, says, “Prosecutors have a policy against you writing out your own statement–they don’t let the defendant write it out. The state’s attorney writes it out. They know what they have to have, so they get those elements in that confession.” He also contends that mistakes and initialed cross outs in handwritten statements can be misleading. “They would make a mistake in their handwritten statements intentionally–and we’ve had state’s attorneys admit it and spouses of state’s attorneys, but not on the record. They do this deliberately, because when we’re attacking a statement in court what they do is they’ll come at you and say, ‘You see how clearly and carefully the defendant read the statement? He even caught the misspelling of his first name and corrected it. See, these are his initials.’ It’s a game they play. Confessions are very powerful evidence, but those confessions are not always true.” He describes a case from a couple of months ago. “Another person had confessed to this crime, and had been charged, and signed his confession. Then it was pointed out he was in jail–he couldn’t have done it. So your confession is bullshit. So they went and got a second defendant–and he confessed. Doesn’t that tell you something?”

Gleason says, “What we have then to rely on is the veracity of the police and the state’s attorney’s office. And how do we know they’re telling the truth? Because they tell us so. And they are by no means objective. They’re not referees, the state’s attorneys. They’re advocates. People often do have a genuine desire to tell the tale. How that tale gets told depends on who’s doing the questioning and how the statement is recorded.”

The statement Ron Rakow signed said that he’d come to the police station to tell the truth about what happened, but in their testimony both Fine and O’Leary implied that he’d first lied to them for about an hour and a half. And the only sentence quoted in the statement–“I don’t give a fuck let your mother take care of you”–suggests that Ron expected the baby to be alive to be taken care of. Ron testified he never said those words to Paul and now claims that Simmons told him, “‘I bet you were pretty tired. I bet you felt like you just wanted to say fuck it.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I felt like saying “Fuck it. Let your mother take care of you.”‘ And what did he do? Quote, unquote, Ronald said, ‘Fuck it, let your mother take care of you.'”

But even if Ron had angrily laid Paul facedown into a pillow hoping he’d smother, there’s no evidence, in the statement or anywhere else, that he did anything to prevent Paul from saving himself. The statement says that Ron laid Paul facedown into a pillow–and walked away. Dr. Marie Valdes-Dapena–who’s been studying SIDS since 1957 and is often called as a witness in cases that could be SIDS or homicide, though usually for the prosecution–testified at Ron’s trial that to suffocate someone you have to deliberately block his airways or otherwise deprive him of oxygen.

“Tell me what happens if an infant’s airway is blocked. What would the infant do?” Cavanaugh asked her.

“An infant, a normal infant, wouldn’t accept that passively, but would struggle to get an airway. A newborn baby, if you put a newborn baby face down in its crib, he will easily lift his head, turn it, and re-establish his airway.”

Dr. Robert Kirschner, who did Paul’s autopsy, testified that Paul “appeared to be well developed and normally nourished.”

“Nothing wrong with his neck muscles or anything of that nature?” asked Cavanaugh.

“No,” Kirschner answered.

The defense also showed a photograph of Paul with his head turned, and both Ron and Angela testified that he’d been able to lift and turn his head for more than a month.

Dr. Valdes-Dapena now says, “I said at the trial and in my letter to the attorney, Mr. Cavanaugh, that SIDS could not be ruled out as the cause of death in this case. I’ve seen many cases with the same sort of time sequence, and this case was not extraordinary. But there’s no way of knowing for sure.”

Ron Rakow says now that until the police put handcuffs on him early in the morning on April 27 he thought he’d confessed to neglect, confessed to being partially responsible because he hadn’t connected the apnea monitor. “I was calm the whole entire interview until they came out with ‘We know you killed your son. We know it was because of the way you laid him down.’ That’s what broke me. Because I’d been feeling that guilt of not attaching that monitor to him for months.”

He’d told the court much the same thing.

“Do you still pray and think about him?” Cavanaugh asked him.

“Yes, I do.”

“You still feel guilty about what happened?”

“Yes, I do.”

“[Did] you feel guilty about what happened even before the police came to your house April 26th?”

“Yes, I did.”

He says he was stunned when the jury found him guilty of first-degree murder. The standard of proof for murder one is clear, premeditated intent to kill. Defendants in SIDS/murder cases are frequently convicted of involuntary manslaughter, but the judge at Ron’s trial didn’t instruct the jury that this was an option–one of the 19 points Cavanaugh made in his motion for a new trial.

“I wasn’t in the room when the verdict was read,” says Angela. “I’d gone out to answer a page, and when I came back in a friend of mine told me ‘Ron’s been convicted.’ I almost fainted.”

Cavanaugh thinks there were several reasons the jury found him guilty, beginning with the fact that Ron was wooden on the stand. “Juries tend to believe professional witnesses in law enforcement,” he added. “And Ron had to defend himself, wrongfully, against allegations of other crimes. Also I think that the jury didn’t fully comprehend that the crime couldn’t have happened in the way the state said he’d committed it.”

Ron had planned to make a long statement at his sentencing, but he broke down in tears and cut himself off.

Prosecutor Nancy Donahoe says unhesitatingly, “There is no whisper of a doubt–he’s guilty of suffocating that child.”

But Cavanaugh remains convinced of Ron’s innocence. He talks with him in prison and sends him magazines, occasionally money. He’s convinced the police believed Ron was guilty when they brought him into the station. “I just wish they’d checked into it more deeply. If they had they wouldn’t have brought a case.” He believes Ron was just a parent who’d made a mistake, stuck in a room with people who are experts at exploiting mistakes. “The police are telling you they know how your son died–well, who’s gonna sit there and think of the legal consequences of what they’re saying to the police? They’re gonna say–like Ron did–‘Go ahead. Whip me, beat me, kill me. I’m responsible.'”

Angela too defends Ron, though it cost her custody of her daughters. DCFS took them away after learning that she’d remained with him after his parents bailed him out of Cook County Jail in 1992.

“They called it ‘injurious environment’ because I allowed something to happen in the home. I didn’t allow anything to happen. My personal problem is they see women as ‘Oh, you love your husband so much you’ll cover for him.’ Well, I love him, but I’m not stupid. If you kill my son, I’d have shot him. Period. End of discussion. You’ll be charging me with murder. You don’t touch my children.”

She says she remembers clearly the night Ron was arrested. “State’s Attorney Simmons came in and said, ‘Your husband just confessed to killing your son.’ And I said, ‘That’s not true. I was home when my son died. You can’t kill my son in front of me. That’s impossible. There’s no way in hell.’ And the statement he made, ‘Well, we’re gonna arrest this bastard’–he said another word, I’m not sure what it was–‘and make sure he doesn’t kill anyone else.’ He didn’t kill my son. I have the feeling no one believed me, and I’m very, very bitter about that.”

Ron Rakow has lost 67 pounds. A buzz cut reveals a misshapen, bruised skull, and he has a dime-sized indentation in his forehead. He’s been hit over the head, pushed, punched, stabbed, and threatened by other prisoners, who believe he’s a child murderer, the lowest form of life in prison. He’s now separated from them for his own protection.

Prison must be driving him crazy, because he can’t talk about his case to anyone. He says that if he does, the person would go to the state the next day and claim he’d confessed. But given the chance to talk he goes on and on.

He explains why he cut his statement short at his sentencing. “I couldn’t get the rest of the statement out, I was so angry I was crying. I wasn’t crying because I was sorry. I was crying because I was angry. And I wasn’t angry at the jurors. I was angry at the prosecution. I was angry at my attorney. I was angry at my family. I was angry at Angela. I was angry at everybody because this had happened to me and nobody could do nothin’ to stop it. I recall saying that I didn’t kill my son, and that no one other than my wife and I could understand the pain of the loss of that child. I couldn’t get the rest of it out. I was so angry I knew that if I went any further I would have done more damage than good. I was so angry to the point where I could have gotten stupid. Done something, called the judge a name. That’s contempt. That’s extra time, another case. I already opened my mouth one time and got myself 35 years. My mouth got me this time.”

He swears he was railroaded at the police station, but has no idea why. He says he always got along well with police. “I was born and raised in a suburb where the police used to drive me home walking home from high school. ‘Need a ride home?’ ‘Sure.’ I knew the police by first name. I get in the city, it’s the same thing. I worked at White Hen Pantry–they come in there every night. I was buddy-buddy with them.”

The warden steps out of the room, and Ron leans forward and says, “We’re on lockdown right now. That means we’ll be deadlocked–I’ll go back to my cell and be locked in my cell and no movement. I get a shower once every 11 days. If I get a visit–too bad!”

Menard is more than 300 miles from Chicago, so he’s had few visits. Angela recently told him she’s filing for divorce. She said he was in for 35 years and she had to get on with her life. “The whole incident,” he says, “two years of trial–actually two and a half years of fighting the case–and then my becoming discontented with the relationship and then separating. Because I couldn’t deal with–every time I look at her I see Paul. Every time she sees me I’m sure she sees him.

“In three years I’ve yet to actually have an emotional breakdown–other than in the police station when they told me, ‘Look, we know that he died because of the way you laid him down. We have a problem with what you’re saying. We know that Paul didn’t die of SIDS. Paul suffocated because you laid him facedown on that pillow.’ That’s the only time I’ve really broken down.

“I know that when people get angry they do things they don’t remember doing, and I had for a little while thought that maybe, after the police messed with my mind–

“I had to just consciously force myself to go back and remember every detail, just to make sure for my own personal assurance that I wasn’t wasting my parents’ time, my lawyer’s time, my wife’s time, or my own. I honestly say that if I did do that, then I deserve to be where I’m at. But I know that I didn’t do it.

“I come home, Angie says to me, ‘You know, if I thought that you’d even remotely hurt Paul, I’d kill you.’ She told me this just as I was falling asleep. I don’t think she has it in her to do that. I think she was just trying to show that she supported me. No matter what happens, no one but me and Angie can ever know what really took place in that room that day.

“There’s not a day that I don’t lay in my cell, an eight-foot-by-four-and-a-half-foot cell–there’s two of us living in there–that I can’t go to sleep at night. Because I’m thinking about my case every day. I can’t forget it. I dream about it.

“I was out of my mind. I was emotionally distraught, and they took an emotionally distraught man and coerced him into believing that he was guilty of harming his three-and-a-half-month-old child.

“You know, I assume the responsibility. Ask me if I killed my son, I’ll say no. Ask me if I feel responsible for his death, I’ll say yes. Because I’ll never know if that apnea monitor would’ve saved his life. I knew better than to leave him unattended in a room without the monitor on. He wasn’t asleep when I laid him down. But I knew better.”

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Bruce Powell.