Explaining the Unexplained: Investigating Child Fatalities for Successful Prosecutions

Explaining the Unexplained: Investigating Child Fatalities for Successful Prosecutions
Duration: 60 Minutes
Module 1Module 1
Recorded on: 2023-10-03
Unit 1Presentation Materials: Explaining the Unexplained: Investigating Child Fatalities for Successful Prosecutions
Unit 2Transcript: Explaining the Unexplained: Investigating Child Fatalities for Successful Prosecutions
Unit 3Workbook: Explaining the Unexplained: Investigating Child Fatalities for Successful Prosecutions
Unit 4Recording: Explaining the Unexplained: Investigating Child Fatalities for Successful Prosecutions

It is law enforcement’s duty to protect the most vulnerable in the community. Victims of unexplained child fatalities do not have a voice and can’t tell us what has happened to them. This makes it crucial to do everything within our power to make sure perpetrators are held accountable and justice is served. Doing so effectively requires a collaborative approach – and this session unpacks how key stakeholders can collaborate and critical considerations when working child fatality cases.

Leading the discussion is Jenna DeRango, Deputy County Attorney with the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office (MCAO). She is assigned to the Family Violence Bureau working on felony domestic violence, child and vulnerable adult abuse, and homicide cases.

Points covered in this webinar include:

  • Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS): What it is, what is required to diagnose SIDS, and the common mistake of labeling unknown cause of death of a child as such.
  • The prevalence of sudden unexpected infant deaths (SUID), its intersection with child abuse and neglect, and the need for first responders to treat each average child fatality case as a homicide investigation.
  • How child fatality investigations differ from other homicide cases due to:
    • Delayed deaths, medical complications, and how trace evidence is less valuable.
    • Lack of witnesses and weapons, and complexities involving multiple responsible parties.
    • Reliance on circumstantial evidence and typically emotionally driven motive.
    • The need for a multi-disciplinary collaboration across law enforcement, child protection agencies, the courts, medical practitioners, and advocates.
  • The importance of having a multi-disciplinary protocol and reviewing and updating this to ensure adherence to best practices.
  • Outlining the duties of the first responder to the child victim in terms of securing the crime scene and evidence collection and documentation.
  • Tips on crime scene and evidence collection – including securing warrants, taking relevant measurements, and the specific evidence to search for and collect.
  • Guidelines when conducting interviews that must be done immediately and establish detailed timelines leading to the incident.
  • Specifics on who must conduct the interview and who should be interviewed, what must be captured, and how questions should be asked.
  • The benefits of utilizing an interview/investigation checklist to ensure comprehensively capturing details even when interrupted and two recommended checklist resources.
  • The importance of obtaining historical records on the child’s family and the different records to look for.
  • Other considerations worth looking into in child fatalities including:
    • Potential child abuse or maltreatment that may be established by looking at changing narratives and other inconsistencies, delays in seeking treatment, evidence of suspicious and repetitive injuries, and siblings who had a similar history.
    • Common suspicious stories that caregivers may provide during interviews.7
    • Critical information collected from devices, social media, surveillance cameras, vehicles, account information, and other jail communications that can be used to corroborate narratives.
    • Tips when interviewing suspects in terms of interviewer demeanor and familiarity with case details to establish timelines, lock them into a statement, and get them to tell the truth.
  • Working with the prosecutor to get the burden of proof required to arrest a perpetrator.

Webinar attendees raised questions about:

  • Preventing investigators from automatically filing infant deaths as SIDS.
  • The interview checklist resources provided.
  • Standard testing to be done for unexplained infant deaths.
  • Interview workarounds to employ recognizing that trauma may impact memory and the ability to provide accurate responses.
  • How often investigatory protocols must be updated.


Click here for other Law Enforcement Webinars on the JCH Platform

Or, Click here for other Domestic Violence-related webinars.


Resources and Handouts


Audience Comments

  • “I appreciated the higher-level review on the topic and recommendations that are pragmatic and sustainable within a department.” — Alicia
  • “Excellent presentation, Jenna, learned a lot!” — Barbara A
  • “Very interesting topic. So painful to imagine all the abuse. So sad But she was a very accurate presenter. Thank you — Donna
  • “All the info was valuable, but specifically important was doing the same universal thing with each investigation.” — Rita
  • “I liked the idea of using a checklist when interviewing so that all relative topics are covered.” — Jason
  • “Great information.” — Robert
  • “I liked that she reminded us to go back to the basics. The forms to make sure you ask all the needed questions at the beginning so if you have to wait on toxic reports or other reports your evidence is preserved.” — Shannon
  • “Besides the refresher information for an investigator. The handouts and checklists are a great resource that I was unaware and great to be able to pass along to road officers and new detectives.” — Taylor
  • “The CDC checklist and other resources to use to create our own investigation protocols.” — Teddie


Additional Resources
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After the Webinar: Explaining the Unexplained. Q&A with Jenna DeRango
Webinar presenter Jenna DeRango answered a number of your questions after her webinar,  Explaining […]
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