The following story contains graphic details of a child abuse case. Reader discretion is advised.
A mother charged with first-degree assault of her 4-month-old infant faced District Judge Nick Burlew and the Owensboro Police Department juvenile detective investigating the case on Friday. During the court hearing, the detective revealed graphic details of the mother’s admitted physical abuse of her child, and that testimony, along with the child’s severe injuries, served as probable cause in waiving the case to the Daviess County Commonwealth’s Attorney.
Meghan J. Bratcher, 32, of Owensboro, brought her unconscious child to Owensboro Health Regional Hospital on Sunday, Nov. 24. OPD was called into the hospital to investigate what appeared to be traumatic injuries suffered by the child that likely stemmed from physical abuse.
According to OPD Juvenile Detective Joshua Alsip, the child was life-flighted to Louisville, where it has remained on life support since Sunday. Alsip said the condition of the four-month-old has not changed since being admitted to the hospital.
“The child is no better, no worse,” Alsip said under oath on Friday.
According to doctors Alsip has spoken with, the infant had sustained various skull fractures as a result of alleged abuse, as well as multiple broken ribs. Bratcher initially told OPD that she’d been carrying the child into her kitchen in the days leading up to Sunday, and that she’d gotten dizzy and passed out, dropping the child on the floor in the process.
That story didn’t ring true for specialists at the hospital who told Alsip that the baby’s injuries exemplified severe abuse on multiple occasions. Doctors told Alsip that the earliest of the detected injuries — the broken ribs — happened to the baby at 10 days old.
Alsip couldn’t say how many skull fractures had been suffered by the child, but did say doctors have detected a scarce amount of brain activity in the baby since being put on life support. The low brain activity is a sign of severe brain damage, they said.
OPD interviewed Bratcher, her husband and surrounding neighbors about the incident, but only one arrest has been made at this point.
Bratcher’s story about the child’s injuries changed as detectives continued to press her for information, and during her second interview she admitted to law enforcement that she’d physically abused her child on multiple occasions.
Bratcher admitted to hitting her child with her fists and hands, but told Alsip she couldn’t remember which days those incidents had occurred. Bratcher admitted that the abusive incidents could have resulted in the child’s broken ribs.
Even more, Bratcher admitted to vigorously shaking her child and slamming the baby’s head against a closet door in her home. Alsip didn’t mention the number of times Bratcher admitted to committing these acts of violence.
Bratcher told Alsip during interviews that, two days before bringing her child to the emergency room, a bout of night terrors had caused her to kick the baby off her bed and onto the floor. When Bratcher checked on the infant, he wasn’t breathing. Bratcher told Alsip she performed CPR until the child regained consciousness.
Bratcher did not take her child to a doctor or hospital after any of these incidents, Alsip said.
Bratcher’s child became feverish Friday night, she said, but she still didn’t take him to the emergency room. On Sunday evening, one of the child’s eyes began to droop, which prompted Bratcher and her husband to take the child to the hospital.
After being given these descriptions, Burlew spoke of the difficulty it takes to break an infant’s ribs, saying the undeveloped bones require one to exert great force in fracturing them.
“This is very unfortunate — for the baby,” he told Bratcher, who’d begun crying as she stood before him in a jail uniform and handcuffs.
Bratcher’s attorney asked that her client be allowed to leave jail on an unsecured bond and go home, with an inability to leave the county. Burlew denied the attorney’s request and kept Bratcher’s bond the same at $200,000.
Prosecutor Misty Miller suggested that the case be waived to the grand jury based on the severity of the events. Burlew agreed, stating that sufficient probable cause had been presented, and the case was officially waived to the Commonwealth’s Attorney.
Bratcher also has a 16-month-old son, Alsip said, but didn’t reveal whether or not this child had been subjected to the same physical abuse. The child is currently in the state’s custody, he said.
Alsip said he had not been informed of the child’s life expectancy.