Jury finds Pommerenke not guilty

ROGERS CITY — A jury found a Presque Isle County man not guilty on two charges of child abuse stemming from an incident in August 2018.

According to testimony in the 53rd Circuit Court before Judge Aaron Gauthier, Caleb Pommerenke, 24, had custody of his young son the weekend of Aug. 17-20-, 2018, and the boy apparently sustained a traumatic injury leading eventually to the child undergoing surgery on his head, including the insertion of two tubes to drain excess blood and fluids from a subdural hemorrhage.

During testimony Friday, Pommerenke said he noticed his son’s eyes were swollen and discolored on the morning of the 18th, gradually worsening during the day. Initially attributing the effects to a sickness that had been going around in the family, Pommerenke was concerned when the symptoms were much worse the next morning, prompting him to take the child to see his sister, a registered nurse working for MidMichigan Health Systems.

The sister, Erin Vogelheim, testified she examined the child, who did not seem to be in discomfort, and advised Pommerenke to keep him at home and watch his condition, saying that emergency room doctors would not offer any other medical options.

When the child was later taken to the emergency room at MidMichigan Medical Center-Alpena by his mother on the afternoon of the 20th, he was sent home without testing and with instructions to monitor his condition.

Prosecutor Ken Radzibon asked Pommerenke what he thought at the time might be the reason for the eye discoloration. Pommerenke said he mostly thought of sickness or of a complication related to some of the child’s medical difficulties and didn’t think of it being caused by trauma.

“I didn’t think anybody would abuse a baby,” Pommerenke said. “Especially not my baby.”

Planning to take the child to his regular pediatrician on the 21st, Pommerenke decided not to go to the emergency room over the weekend. On the 20th, he took the child to Mackenzie Williams, the boy’s mother, who had contacted him during the night demanding custody.

Williams, concerned about the eye discoloration, sought medical attention that day, which eventually led to the discovery of the internal bleed as well as to an investigation of Pommerenke as a possible child abuse suspect.

In a recording of a police interview, continued from Thursday’s testimony, Pommerenke asserted several times the child’s internal head injury could have happened while under his care, but he wasn’t able to provide any explanation for what may have caused it. He asserted that he didn’t notice a bump on the side of the child’s head or any injury other than the boy’s swollen and discolored eyes.

During closing arguments, Radzibon asserted the testimony of his witnesses proved Pommerenke had failed as a parent and caregiver to protect his child and to provide adequate medical care. The timeline established throughout the trial, coupled with the expert witness of a pediatric child abuse specialist, put the time of the injury that caused life-threatening internal bleeding during the days when the child was under Pommerenke’s supervision, Radzibon said, with a clear implication that Pommerenke not only knew what had happened to the child but even knowingly caused the injury himself.

Defense attorney Jim Gilbert reminded the jury that for the two counts of child abuse, the prosecution had the burden to prove Pommerenke knowingly and intentionally committed an act that posed an undue risk of harm to the child. Although conceding that something traumatic had happened to the child, Gilbert declared the prosecution had failed to provide any evidence that confirmed when or where the incident occured or who was involved.

“Who did this? Who knows,” Gilbert said, adding that nothing presented in court, not even expert testimony, could show beyond a reasonable doubt that his client was responsible for the child’s injuries or failed to provide adequate medical care.

The jury, including the alternate who was called into service when one jurist had to leave due to medical concerns, deliberated for about an hour before declaring their verdict of not guilty to both counts.

Following the trial, a bond violation hearing related to Pommerenke missing a mandated testing appointment led to Gauthier sentencing Pommerenke to 10 days in jail for contempt of court.

Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693, jriddle@thealpenanews.com or on Twitter @jriddleX.