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Berrien County child abuse case heads to trial

ST. JOSEPH, Mich. - Graphic testimony on Thursday led a judge to send Bradley Penley – who’s charged with breaking an infant’s skull – to trial.

“We’re driving to the hospital right now!” Penley said, in a recording of a 9-1-1 call he made on April 20, 2017.

The call was played in court on Thursday during Penley’s preliminary examination hearing for child abuse charges.

“He hit his head,” Penley said in the recording. “He fell off the couch. I was making dinner.”

Penley was talking about his girlfriend’s three-month-old son, River, who is heard crying in the background of the call.

In court Thursday, Emerald Kiourtsis – River’s mother – described the moment Penley called her, before he called 9-1-1.

“He was hysterical,” Kiourtsis said of Penley. “I could hear River crying in the background and he was just hysterical.”

Court documents say her infant’s skull was broken in two places in an incident inside the family’s Sawyer home on April 20.

Penley is not River’s father.

Kiourtsis had left Baby River with Penley – her boyfriend at the time – while she went to her grandparents’ house.

But only 20 minutes later, Penley called her in a panic.

He claimed the baby had fallen off a couch while he was in the kitchen cooking.

“He wasn’t really moving,” Kiourtsis said of River. “He had like a whining cry, which I’d never heard before. And then he’d get real quiet, like to a whimper, so I would make sure he was conscious and like move his arm or foot or something.”

Penley was interviewed twice by Michigan State Police Trooper Benjamin Mahaffie.

“He was insistent that he didn’t know what happened,” Mahaffie said of Penley.

But Penley was charged with first degree child abuse.

Judge Arthur Cotter heard testimony from two doctors on Thursday.

Both agreed River’s injuries – which also included bruising and a broken leg – were unusually severe.

“The child’s injuries were consistent with a high-speed car crash where the child wasn’t restrained,” said Dr. Matthew Hysell, who works in Lakeland Hospital’s emergency room. “This isn’t something that happens from a child rolling off a couch.”

“It would’ve required some type of outside force or trauma to have gotten these injuries,” said Dr. Debra Simms, of the Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.

Judge Cotter decided he had seen enough evidence on Thursday to send the case to trial.

Penley will face a jury in August.

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