Townsville soldier cleared of killing baby son

A former Australian soldier accused of killing his six-week-old baby son has been exonerated after being found not guilty on retrial.

Apr 06, 2021, updated Apr 06, 2021
 Photo: ABC

Photo: ABC

Nicholas Aaron Baxter was found guilty of manslaughter over the death of son Matthew in a Supreme Court trial at Townsville in 2017.

The conviction was quashed on appeal and Mr Baxter found not guilty on Tuesday in a judge-only trial.

Tiny six-week-old Matthew Baxter suffered rib fractures and brain haemorrhaging before he died in 2011.

Baxter called Bluewater Medical Practice in Townsville on November 3, 2011, to report his son was “limp and had a purple rash on his back”.

He had been looking after Matthew alone while his wife Tenae was on a course to get her boat licence.

The centre receptionist initially told him to bring the infant to the clinic before telling him to call an ambulance.

Matthew was taken to hospital where he was stabilised and placed in intensive care.

Doctors could not find any marks or injuries on the child’s face, head or body, the court was told.

The baby never recovered and three days later was taken off life support and died on November 6, 2011.

Tenae Baxter, a member of the Royal Australian Air Force, said the pair met while serving in Afghanistan and described her husband as a loving father.

“He was loving. He was nurturing. He changed nappies, he bathed him. He comforted him, spent time with him,” she told the court.

She never saw him frustrated or lose his patience with their son, the court heard.

Medical evidence showed MRI scans indicated evidence of bleeding around the brain.

Forensic pathologist Dr David Williams conducted the autopsy and found Matthew sustained a head injury from a “serious assault” – either by a violent shaking or by being thrown down onto a soft and yielding surface.

However, defence witness international radiologist Dr Julie Mack gave evidence the bleeding could have been caused by a genetic disorder.

Justice David North described the prosecution case as circumstantial which failed to “shed light” on what acts caused the baby’s death.

It relied heavily on the fact Baxter was alone with his son before the injury.

“The Crown case depends, for proof (beyond reasonable doubt) of a non-accidental act or acts by Mr Baxter,” Justice North said.

“Nevertheless, what caused Matthew’s collapse and death remains a matter of speculation.”

The judge said the prosecution failed to prove manslaughter and found Baxter not guilty.

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