Doctor testifies in trial of South Valley man accused of raping and killing girlfriend’s 3-year-old daughter

VISALIA, Calif. (KFSN) —

Christopher Cheary is charged with first-degree murder with special circumstances of sexual assault and torture.

Thursday, Dr. Philip Hyden testified in the Cheary murder trial. He’s a pediatrician at Valley Children’s Hospital and the medical director of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Center there.

Dr. Hyden first evaluated three-year-old Sophia Acosta late at night on May 7th, 2011.

Acosta was unresponsive, had bruises, and through radiography, Dr. Hyden found evidence of hemorrhaging.

“But I was concerned that this child had been subjected to forceful vigorous activity that caused bleeding in the head and in the eyes. Even though I only knew about retinal hemorrhaging in the left eye at that time.”

Dr. Hyden also observed bleeding in the perineum, or groin area, also indicating blunt force trauma there.

Prosecutors allege that Cheary, the boyfriend of Sophia’s mother, caused these injuries when he was home alone with Acosta and her sister, while their mother was buying heroin in Visalia.

Cheary’s defense team has said that Acosta had a blood-clotting disorder and that the case is a medical mystery. But according to Dr. Hyden, there were, what he called, a constellation of findings during Acosta’s stay at Valley Children’s that point towards a traumatic event.

“I look at all these and say that this kid has been traumatized more than one episode, but possibly all at the same time. And I believe this child was subjected to severe non-accidental trauma. I do not come up with that diagnosis every day with every child I see.”

Dr. Hyden, who evaluates 300 children a year, said Acosta’s case was one of the most severe he’s seen. Especially because in her case, the trauma was fatal.

This trial is expected to finish within the next two weeks. It’s been more than a month since the trial started.

Cheary faces the death penalty if convicted.

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