HILLSBORO, ORE. - A 2-year-old boy lost his life because his father suffered from post traumatic slave syndrome and could not see the error of his violent ways, a Portland lawyer says. Randall Vogt told The Oregonian he will argue - "in a general way" - that masters beat slaves, so his client, Isaac Cortez Bynum, was justified in beating his son.
The father is charged with murder by abuse in the June 30 death of his son, Ryshawn Lamar Bynum. An autopsy found the boy died of a brain injury and had a broken neck, broken ribs and as many as 70 whip marks on his legs, buttocks, back and chest that were of various ages.
Bynum told police he hit his son with a watch strap during toilet-training. He said the day before the boy died, he was playing "helicopter," swinging his son around the room, when the boy hit his head on a table.
"He had a traditional, Southern, small-town, working-class upbringing where 'whuppin' was accepted," Vogt said. "Whether that was abusive or not, that is in the eye of the beholder. He was raised differently than your typical kid in Beaverton."
The slave syndrome is an untested theory that has never been offered in court. It comes from Joy DeGruy-Leary, an assistant professor in the Portland State University Graduate School of Social Work.
DeGruy-Leary testified earlier this month that blacks are affected by past centuries of U.S. slavery because the original slaves were never treated for the trauma of seeing relatives whipped, raped and killed.
Because blacks never got a chance to heal and still face oppression, they suffer from multigenerational trauma - and violent or aggressive behavior often results, she said.
Washington County Judge Nancy W. Campbell recently threw out DeGruy-Leary's pretrial testimony, noting that the theory has not been proven.
But the judge said she would reconsider the defense for Bynum's September trial if his lawyer can show the slave theory is an accepted mental disorder with a valid scientific basis and specifically applies to this case.
"I think it can be proven," Vogt said. "The problem is it's brand new. It's not as easy to present in court as something that's been established over years."
The judge also said the defense would have to show Bynum, who grew up in Mississippi, has slave syndrome.
Besides a doctorate in social work research, DeGruy-Leary has a master's degree in clinical psychology. She said she can offer counseling but is not licensed to diagnose anyone.
"Post traumatic slave syndrome is rather unique; it's not that everybody has it," DeGruy-Leary testified. "If you are African American and you are living in America, you have been impacted."
Under cross-examination by Robert Hull, Washington County senior deputy district attorney, DeGruy-Leary viewed Ryshawn Bynum's autopsy photos.
Calling the boy's injuries excessive, DeGruy-Leary said she would have reported them. But in many black households, such discipline "is extremely common," she said.
"It falls in the rubric of what they think is normal."
(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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