Article from March 27, 2003 Orlando [Florida] Sentinel
Reprinted by permission


By Amy C. Rippel Sentinel Staff Writer

(Copyright 2003 by The Orlando Sentinel)

An Orlando man serving a life sentence for shaking his infant son to death is seeking a new trial, saying Orange County Medical Examiner Shashi Gore botched the child's autopsy -- including misidentifying the child's race and age.

Alan Yurko, who is gaining international supporters, suggests the sickly 10-week-old boy, Alan Ream-Yurko, died in 1997 after an adverse reaction to a routine vaccination.

Gore's autopsy found that the child died from shaken-baby syndrome.

Yurko, 33, has filed a motion for a new trial in Orange County, partially based on what Yurko said are mistakes made by Gore. Earlier this month, a judge ordered prosecutors to outline their position on the issues in the motion. The response will take at least two months.

In the autopsy report, Gore, among other things, described an organ he never examined and misidentified the baby's race and age, according to court transcripts and the autopsy report.

Yurko's allegations are the latest to hit the beleaguered medical examiner, who earlier this year faced ethical questions for doing work for private clients while being paid by taxpayers in Orange and Osceola counties.

Yurko, convicted in 1999, has maintained his innocence from the start.s

Francine Yurko, Alan's Yurko's wife and the baby's mother, and a group of international supporters calling themselves the Free Yurko Project insist the man did not kill the baby. Orange County courts haven't determined whether Yurko will get a new trial.

"If I thought for one second that man could have done something to my child, he would have been lucky for the police to get to him first before me," said Francine Yurko, 32. "I know Alan like I know my own kid. Alan can't lie to me. There's no way he could have kept this from me."

Alan Yurko's supporters have donated more than $25,000 to pay for lawyers, investigators and experts to build a defense, Alan Yurko said. He also said he has amassed evidence that Gore made several "discrepancies/mistakes and egregious misrepresentations" in the autopsy report and during his testimony at trial.

They include:
* Detailing the condition of the child's heart in the autopsy report, when the organ had been donated before the autopsy.
* Noting in the autopsy report the child's head circumference was 22 centimeters, when the medical records prior to death show his head size as 37.5 centimeters.
* Identifying the baby as a 2-month-old black male. Alan, who was white, was 10 weeks old at death. The autopsy report was later changed to indicate the baby's correct race.

Francine Yurko said neither she nor her husband was aware of the inconsistencies in the autopsy report until after his conviction. Gore referred questions to the State Attorney's Office, which prosecuted Yurko. Randy Means, spokesman for the state attorney, would not comment on the specifics of Yurko's appeal.

"We feel confident with the results of Dr. Gore's investigation, autopsy and his report," Means said.

Francine Yurko said her son had health problems from birth. The baby spent the first few days of life under the close scrutiny of doctors for respiratory and breathing problems, kidney problems and jaundice.

After he was released from the hospital, the problems continued for weeks. The child was diagnosed with "failure to thrive" and apnea, Francine Yurko said.

On Nov 11, 1997, 8-week-old Alan was given six routine vaccinations simultaneously. Within 24 hours, the baby became fussy with a fever and diarrhea. That continued for 10 days, Francine Yurko said.

After Francine Yurko left for work on Nov. 24, 1997, Alan Yurko said the baby stopped breathing. Alan Yurko rushed the baby to the hospital, where he later died. Alan Yurko was arrested days later and convicted of shaking the baby to death.

Once in prison, Alan Yurko -- who is currently at Century Correctional Institution near Pensacola -- began reviewing his child's medical records. After checking databases of adverse vaccination reactions collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration, Alan Yurko said he determined that his boy was given a "hot lot" vaccine -- an immunization from a lot that has caused adverse reactions or deaths.

Yurko said the information showed that five other child deaths were associated with the vaccine lot given to his son. But a key piece of information -- the number of doses in any vaccination lot - - is not available under FDA regulations. It's considered proprietary information, making it impossible to get an accurate comparison of adverse reactions between the lots.

"If you can't get the number of vials in a vaccine lot; it's very difficult to compare reactively lot to lot," said Barbara Loe Fisher, president and co-founder of the Virginia-based National Vaccine Information Center.

The FDA, which oversees vaccinations, has the authority to recall problematic vaccine lots, but the lot used on Alan has not been recalled, FDA officials said.

Toxicologist Robin McFee, who is not connected to the case, said vaccines don't cause the same brain trauma seen in shaken-baby syndrome cases. Mostly, children suffer arm pain or swelling from the injection. In more severe cases, there are headaches, fever and seizures.

"People blame vaccines for a whole host of things. Tragic as they [reactions] are, they are incredibly rare," said McFee, an assistant professor of preventive medicine at Nova Southeastern University's College of Osteopathic Medicine in Fort Lauderdale. "In the world of reality, you would have a hard time proving to me that this vaccine caused this child's death."

California toxicologist Mohammed Al-Bayati, hired by Yurko to review his case, said he has the proof. In a 78-page report, Al- Bayati said the vaccines given to Alan ultimately led to cardiac arrest. The adverse vaccine reaction, he said, was compounded by a number of mistakes made by physicians treating the child in the final hours of life.

"There is no shaken-baby syndrome," he said.

Even before the request for a new trial was filed, the Yurkos were working with dozens of supporters, many of whom are anti- vaccination, to mount a defense. In doing so, the Free Yurko Project emerged. The group's Web site lists dozens of supporters worldwide, including holistic doctors, parents whose children have had adverse reactions to vaccinations and a prison ministry.

There's a link on the site to donate directly from a credit card. And the group is also selling T-shirts that say "Free Alan Yurko" on the front, and "Vaccination: Don't Be A Victim" on the back for $12.

Sandie Carlin, who runs a New Zealand group for victims of vaccine injuries, said she has seen many people wrongly convicted in vaccine-injury cases.

"The fact is there is not enough research into the long-term effects of vaccines, the damage, reactions, how they affect all the body's systems," she said from her New Zealand home.

"I do believe him. I just know it inside."


Alan Yurko


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