Massachusetts Murder: Boy Beaten By Father Suffers Brain Death

How I wish I could write more of positive news in this blog. Unfortunately, as my law school professors used to tell me, “It’s bad cases that make good law.”

Along those lines, this next case illustrates the definition of murder in Massachusetts, and when someone is “dead.” Nathaniel Turner was a 7-year-old boy who by all accounts was a pleasure to be around. According to those who knew him well in his hometown of Eufaula, Alabama, the 7-year-old liked to stay home and play in the yard. In school, He was an excellent student at Eufaula Primary School, whose school principal Suzann Tibbs, now thinks of his smile: “The smile in the picture – he has it all the time,” she said of a recently-taken photo. He was raised by his grandmother Chrissy Taylor, from the time he was born. Now, it seems, that promising life is ended. Far too young, and far too cruelly. Nathaniel was declared “clinically dead” Tuesday June 23, 2009 by doctors at UMass Memorial Medical Center after he was allegedly beaten by his father, Leslie G. Schuler, on Father’s Day.

The 36-year-old Schuler now faces multiple charges, including several counts of assault and battery and assault with intent to murder. News sources, including The Worcester Telegram & Gazette, are reporting that Schuler allegedly slammed Nathaniel’s head into a wall on Father’s Day. It was reportedly the latest in a series of abusive acts that have occurred since Nathaniel was ordered by a court to spend the summer with his father. A Massachusetts Juvenile Court judge is expected to rule soon whether Nathaniel will be taken off of life support at UMass Memorial Medical Center University Campus.

How a 7-year-old could be placed in such an abusive situation is disturbing. According to the Worcester Gazette-Herald, Schuler was also charged with a 2006 assault stemming from an alleged attack of a man with a pipe. Schuler has reportedly paid child support for three years according to the Boston Herald, but this summer was apparently the first time that Nathaniel has spent this much time with his father in Massachusetts. Family members stated that Nathaniel did not want to leave his hometown of Eufaula, Alabama for the summer. The boy had allegedly been abused both physically and mentally by his father for several weeks, according to media reports. Schuler’s girlfriend, Tiffany Hyman, 28, allegedly watched the abuse take place. She was charged with two counts of assault and battery on a child causing serious bodily injuries. Schuler has been held on $250,000 cash bail and Hyman on $50,000.

Is this a horrid case of child abuse, or murder? As the murder section of my web site makes clear, at present, in Massachusetts it has been ruled by the Supreme Judicial Court that death essentially occurs when a patient exhibits no spontaneous respiration, when no positive electroencephalogram (EEG, or brain waves) exists for a period of 24 hours, and when the patient does not respond to painful stimuli. Together, these factors constitute brain death. Hence, were someone to walk into a hospital room and unplug the respirator from such a patient, there would be no “murder.” Tragically, that seems to be the case for Nathaniel Turner. If so, Leslie G. Schuler, his father, will stand trial for murder or manslaughter. If convicted, one can only hope that his mental torture that haunts him from this act will last each day he is in prison, and for the rest of his life. I say this as a Massachusetts murder defense lawyer, who believes that each defendant should receive a strong, vigorous legal defense in court. Schuler deserves no less under our system of justice, like anyone else accused of a serious crime. But if the evidence convicts him, I hope he suffers long and hard. And I say that, as a man of conscience.