Trial delayed for man charged with death of infant son

By Jalen Maki

Tomahawk Leader Co-Editor

MERRILL – The 10-day trial for former Tomahawk resident Henry Robert Hughes, who was charged in the 2016 death of his infant son, has been delayed due to a key witness being admitted for emergency surgery that will require six weeks of recovery.

Both parties agreed that the trial would not be able to proceed at this time. All jurors were released, and as of press time, no new trial date had been announced.

Hughes, who was 20 years old at the time of his infant son River’s death, faces one count of first-degree reckless homicide and two counts of child abuse.

Henry Hughes
Henry Hughes

According to a Tomahawk Police Department Incident Report filed in Lincoln County on Nov. 2, 2016, Hughes and his wife Shilynn Hughes, River’s mother, brought River into the Tomahawk Ministry Health Care Emergency Room at approximately 6:15 p.m. on Sept. 4, 2016. Henry and Shilynn stated the child had started coughing and stopped breathing, and Henry had administered CPR. Henry stated a white substance had started coming out of River’s mouth.

The report says that on Sept. 5, 2016, a second Tomahawk Police Officer contacted the officer who filed the report, stating he had received a complaint from St. Joseph’s Hospital in Marshfield regarding a “possible child abuse case involving a nine (9) day old infant that occurred in the City of Tomahawk on Sunday evening September 4, 2016.”

The two officers conducted an interview with Johanna Miller, a social worker employed by the Lincoln County Social Services Department, at St. Joseph’s on Sept. 5, 2016. Miller told the officers that River’s injuries consisted of a subdural hematoma of the brain, a metaphyseal ankle fracture and bi-lateral fractures to the ribs.

According to the report, Henry told the officers that on the day of the incident, Shilynn had fed River and left for work, leaving Henry to care for River and another child from a past relationship of Shilynn’s. Henry had put the infant in his car seat on the couch, and while was making dinner, he heard River start to cry.

Henry said he attempted to lay River in his crib and heard him start to cough, describing it as “almost watery, like gurgling” and “hacking like he’s choking on water, like too big of a sip.” He laid River on his back in the crib to see if “he would spit any of it out.” Henry said at that point River started to turn blue and seize up, and eventually turned blue and stopped moving.

Henry said he administered CPR and a white fluid started to come out of River’s mouth, also saying that it “tasted like vomit” and that doctors later told him they thought River had aspirated. He told the officers he then called Shilynn and the two took River to the hospital.

The officers told Henry that River’s injuries were not consistent with his story, and that the injuries he had sustained don’t happen from a cough, but when a child is shaken or dropped. Henry responded by saying, “I didn’t drop him. There’s a chance it could have occurred while I was attempting to perform CPR.”

After being asked if he could have possibly accidentally shaken River while trying to get him to respond, Henry told the officers, “There’s a possibility, while doing CPR and trying to get him to regain consciousness.”

Henry later said, “When I put him down on the bed I may have been a little rough about it because he wasn’t breathing. Um, I think I might have shook him once, but it wasn’t hard,” according to the report.

“Henry changes this statement and said that he put his hands on (River’s) chest and shook up and down as if he were giggling (River) up and down,” the report states. Henry later said that when picking River up the second time River’s head “snapped back,” but Henry “quickly scooped it.”

When asked about how River sustained a broken ankle, Henry initially stated it could have happened while they were putting him in the car, but that he “didn’t do anything to break the ankle.”

Henry said the bruising around River’s eyes was “probably from him trying to pry open (River’s) eye,” which he attempted with his thumb and index finger while River was lying on the bed, the report says.

At the end of the interview, Henry told the officers, “I’m 100% sure I didn’t shake him.” When the officers told him the injuries were telling them different, Henry stated, “I don’t know. I’m at a loss. I can’t explain what happened,” adding, “There’s like a 25% chance I may have shook him harder (than) what I said, but I doubt it.”

Shilynn told the officers that River’s health and behavior seemed normal the day of and the day prior to the incident.

On Sept. 8, 2016, in a conference call with the officer who filed the report, Tomahawk Police Chief Al Elvins, social worker Heather Schagenhoff and Dr. Kristen Iniguez from Marshfield Clinic, Iniguez stated River was in a coma with severe injuries.

She described the injuries as ‘severe high velocity injuries,’ (previously known as Shaken Baby Syndrome) and that there were no symptoms that could cause the type of injuries River had sustained, adding that River’s brain itself was injured. After speaking with Shilynn, Iniguez concluded that the injuries didn’t occur during childbirth.

Iniguez stated that she believed the injuries to River’s head and brain were due to Abusive Head Trauma.

River died on Sept. 18, 2016, at 23 days old.

Henry was taken into custody by Tomahawk police on Nov. 1, 2016, after police received a verbal autopsy report that confirmed the medical accusations.

In a story published in the Tomahawk Leader on Nov. 8, 2016, Elvins explained why the department had waited so long to pursue charges.

“We wanted to wait until we had all the information we needed because that child can’t talk for itself and can’t tell us what happened,” he stated. “The most important crime you’ll ever work is a homicide and this is a homicide, so we have to speak for that victim. We have to allow the medical evidence and we have to allow the physical evidence to speak to us so we can give that voice to the child.”

Henry Hughes faces up to 75 years in prison if convicted.

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