FRANKLIN — The murder case against a Bristol man for shaking a baby 23 years ago is not unprecedented in New Hampshire or in the country, according to the state medical examiner.
“It's not common, but our office has dealt with delayed homicides many times before, and you won't have trouble finding them in other states, either,” said Dr. Thomas Andrew, the state's chief medical examiner.
Andrew ruled Brian Wiggin's death in 2008 a homicide, a ruling that led authorities to arrest Bruce Watson, 46, on one count of reckless second-degree murder for shaking Wiggin when he was 4½ months old in 1989.
Wiggin was 18 when he died from what Andrew ruled a homicide as the result of a catastrophic brain injury when he was shaken as baby.
But a number of cases ruled homicides by the state medical examiner have gone without arrest or any form of prosecution, Andrew said.
“We've ruled on these cases in our offices before, but prosecutors may or may not prosecute them, that's a legal decision based on our evidence,” he said.
The state Attorney General's Office, which brought the charge against Watson Tuesday, would not comment further or give details on why it took four years after Wiggin's death to arrest Watson.
“We don't comment on ongoing investigations,” Senior Assistant Attorney General Susan G. Morrell said. “All I can say is it's a very complex case, and it's not uncommon that it takes time for us to prosecute a case.”
Andrew would also not speak directly about the Wiggin case but said, in general, prosecutors' actions depend on specifics of the case.
“If you're going to put someone on trial to take their liberties away, you'd better have your ducks in a row,” he said.
Wiggin died after living his life as a blind quadriplegic, a direct result of Watson's shaking him at 293 W. Main St. in Tilton in 1989. His mother, Tammy Perreault, was watching as Watson was arraigned in Franklin District Court on Tuesday, afterward saying she was pleased that he was finally charged in her son's death. Shortly after the 1989 incident, Watson pleaded guilty to second-degree assault and served 2½ years in state prison.
Andrew said in autopsies, a medical examiner is asked to determine if a death was natural, accidental, a suicide, a homicide or of an undetermined nature. The examiners determine both cause of death and manner of death “Our determination of homicide is death brought about by another person, and if, on the basis of our work, a straight line can be drawn from a single injury, to what originally happened, and to a cause of death, the manner of death can be ruled a homicide,” he said.
Andrew gave a theoretical example. “If a cab driver is shot in the head and dies at some later point, the death is ruled a homicide and the shooter can be charged with murder,” he said.
A similar occurred in New Port Richey, Fla., when Christina Welch, died at age 19 in 2006. Her father, Mike Wells, violently shook her when she was 2 months old in 1989. She died in March 2006.
Wells, who had already been convicted for aggravated child abuse at the time of the shaking, pleaded no contest to second-degree murder in 2010 and received a 15-year prison sentence.
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Dan Seufert may be reached at email@example.com.