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Joshua Gehde

Joshua Gehde, left, listens to testimony in his reckless homicide trial Tuesday with his lawyers, Kathleen Pakes, center, and Vincent Rust. 

Defense medical experts testifying Tuesday for a man accused of the child abuse death of a 2-year-old girl who died last year said she died from blood clots in her brain that led to a stroke and a host of other problems, not from abusive head trauma.

Dr. Carl Wigren, a forensic pathologist from Seattle, and Dr. Joseph Scheller, a child neurologist from Baltimore, said it was unlikely in their view that Joshua Gehde, 27, of Madison, abused his girlfriend’s daughter, Sophia Huff, on April 12, 2016, leading to her death at a hospital two days later.

Their testimony followed testimony Monday by Dr. Vincent Tranchida, Dane County chief medical examiner, that Sophia died from child abuse, including abusive head trauma.

Gehde is charged with first-degree reckless homicide for Sophia’s death. A criminal complaint states that he was alone with the girl while her mother was away at work, and that he told police that he came out of the bathroom at his Onsgard Road apartment to find her unresponsive on the living room floor.

Prosecutors rested Monday after presenting testimony for a week.

Tranchida testified Monday that Sophia had 37 separate bruises on her body, including several on her head and face, evidence of injuries beneath her scalp and to the surface of her skull but no skull fractures, injuries that he said were the result of blunt force trauma.

Tranchida said Sophia had bleeding inside her skull and that her brain was swollen. There were also multiple hemorrhages to Sophia’s eyes, he said.

Wigren, who said he works primarily on behalf of criminal defense attorneys and performs autopsies by private contract, said he did not see notes in records of any scalp swelling on Sophia’s head or “goose eggs” indicating head trauma. He also said microscopic examinations of bruises from her head indicated that the injuries causing those bruises happened a minimum of three days before she died but more likely occurred seven days prior, when Sophia was in the care of other family members.

The bleeding on her brain, Wigren said, was caused by clots that were the result of some other medical condition, not abuse, which caused her to have a stroke and seizures.

“She had what we term a childhood stroke,” Wigren said.

Deputy District Attorney Matthew Moeser aggressively challenged Wigren’s opinions, calling on him repeatedly to cite supporting evidence in medical literature for his views, and reminding him that although a radiologist had noted clots on medical scans, none were found by Tranchida during his autopsy of Sophia.

Scheller also testified that Sophia died from a seizure that was triggered by a stroke, which led to complications that included brain swelling. While he said it was “in the realm of possibility” that someone had hurt Sophia and “100 percent appropriate to consider” whether that happened, he found it unlikely because there weren’t other injuries such as broken bones or swelling to areas of her head to support that diagnosis.

While Scheller admitted on cross examination that a stroke of this kind in children was very rare, he said his opinion was backed by “common sense” and experience in his field.

Testimony is expected to continue Wednesday with one other defense medical expert, Dr. Lawrence Hutchins. The case is expected to go to the jury Thursday.


Ed Treleven is the courts reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal.