, Salem, MA

November 10, 2011

Judge denies bail for man accused of shaking baby

By Julie Manganis
Staff writer

PEABODY — A Peabody father who investigators say admitted shaking and later head-butting his infant daughter will remain held without bail, a Peabody District Court judge ruled yesterday.

Judge Matthew Nestor called the allegations against Richard Elias, 22, "horrifying" and said there are no conditions he could set that could ensure the safety of Elias' now-estranged wife or their 8-week-old daughter.

That baby girl, named Isabella, is still hospitalized, prosecutor Kate MacDougall told the judge yesterday, with injuries all but certain to leave her with lifelong disabilities.

She has suffered bleeding on both sides of her brain, damage to her frontal lobe and what appears to be some death of brain tissue, MacDougall said in court. Doctors also found retinal hemorrhages, which suggests the child may lose her sight.

They also found four to five rib fractures that were in the process of healing and will conduct additional tests to determine whether there are more fractures, which are often hard to see in an infant, the prosecutor said.

And at least some of those injuries might have been less severe had Elias told doctors what he'd done after the first incident, on Oct. 20, MacDougall said.

Elias' wife, Rachel, 37, had gone out to pick up her two older children from school. She later estimated that she was gone for about 10 minutes.

During that time, Elias would later admit, he shook the baby after she soiled a just-changed diaper, investigators said. But all he told his wife, and later doctors at North Shore Medical Center, was that Isabella suddenly had a seizure.

Doctors there couldn't determine the cause of that seizure and sent the baby home, MacDougall said.

On Oct. 29, Elias' wife attended a Halloween party, the first time she had gone out since giving birth in September.

Elias stayed home to care for the crying baby. He would later tell investigators that he grew frustrated and "head-butted" her because she would not stop crying while he was trying to drink beer and play Xbox Live.

MacDougall said yesterday that investigators believe he also shook her violently that night, hard enough to trigger seizures.

At one point, Elias began giving the infant chest compressions, then told the other players on the Xbox game that his daughter was having seizures and asked for their advice.

They told him to call 911, MacDougall said.

He didn't. And when his wife called from the party, he told her only that Isabella was having seizures again.

She rushed home.

Because she was concerned that doctors hadn't taken the earlier seizure seriously, Rachel Elias recorded one of the seizures with a video camera.

MacDougall said the video shows the then-7-week-old crying and writhing, her tiny hands clenching and unclenching.

"Clearly he knew, unlike his wife, what he had done to her," MacDougall said.

The two brought Isabella to the doctor the next morning, MacDougall said, and from there, she went to North Shore Medical Center and finally to Massachusetts General Hospital, where she remains.

Doctors at both hospitals called the Department of Children and Families.

Richard Elias gradually admitted the extent of his assaults on the child over the next two days, investigators said.

His wife yesterday was granted a one-year restraining order barring Elias from any contact with her or her children, including Isabella.

Elias' attorney, public defender Mark Schmidt, suggested that the restraining order, along with some other conditions, such as an electronic monitoring bracelet, would be enough to protect the victim.

Elias, who was born in Texas and grew up in Utica, N.Y., also fathered twins by a woman there when he was 18. Shortly after that, he enlisted in the Army.

He was discharged four or five months ago, after serving time in several countries, including Iraq. While Elias' only tie to the area is an uncle in Methuen, that uncle was willing to take him in, Schmidt said.

"He's a soldier," Schmidt said. "He knows how to follow orders. ... I just don't see that he poses a substantial threat to anyone."

Nestor, the judge, questioned how Schmidt could reconcile that argument with his decision to waive a hearing and concede that Elias is dangerous.

"You're trying to tell me he's not dangerous when you just stipulated to what I would describe as a horrifying set of facts?" Nestor asked the lawyer.

MacDougall told the judge she plans to present the case to a grand jury and seek an indictment sometime within the next month. A status hearing in the case is scheduled for Dec. 9.

Courts reporter Julie Manganis may be reached at 978-338-2521 or