Argued: October 8, 2019
A. McNamara, Esq. (orally), Drake Law, LLC, Berwick, for
appellant Brandon J. Coleman
Jennifer Ackerman, Dep. Dist. Atty. (orally), Cumberland
County District Attorney's Office, Portland, for appellee
State of Maine
SAUFLEY, C.J., and ALEXANDER, MEAD, GORMAN, JABAR, HJELM, and
On a summer evening in 2017, a seven-week-old child, while
alone with her father at their residence, lost consciousness
and was rushed to the hospital. The infant's treating
physicians determined that she had suffered subdural
hematomas, retinal hemorrhages, and external bruising-a
constellation of injuries caused, in this case, by traumatic
child abuse. The child's father, Brandon J. Coleman, was
charged with two counts of aggravated assault and one count
of assaulting a child younger than six years old.
Coleman proceeded to trial (Cumberland County, Cashman,
J.), where a jury found him guilty of all charges.
Coleman appeals from the judgment of conviction ultimately
entered by the court, asserting that the State engaged in
prosecutorial misconduct during the trial, that the
court's instructions to the jury on the elements of the
aggravated assault charges were erroneous, and that the
evidence was insufficient to support the conviction for one
of the aggravated assault charges. We affirm the judgment.
We draw the following account of the case from the procedural
record and from the evidence as viewed in the light most
favorable to the State. See State v. Adams, 2019 ME
132, ¶ 2, 214 A.3d 496.
In July of 2017, Coleman and his girlfriend lived in an
apartment in Portland with their infant daughter. In the
weeks after the child's birth, she had no known health
problems. During the evening hours of July 1, 2017, the
child's mother was at work, and Coleman was caring for
the child by himself. Earlier that day when the mother was
caring for the child, the child was experiencing no sign of
distress and was, according to her mother, "her normal
self." Coleman later reported to the child's
treating physicians and an investigator that over the course
of the evening, the child began to cry and then "went
limp in his arms as if she had died." Coleman eventually
called 9-1-1. Medical first responders brought the child to
the hospital, where she was found to have subdural hematomas,
retinal hemorrhages, and external bruising.
Several months later, in September of 2017, Coleman was
indicted for one count of Class A aggravated assault, 17-A
M.R.S. § 208(1)(A-1) (2018),  one count of Class B
aggravated assault, 17-A M.R.S. § 208(1)(A) (2018),
one count of Class C assault on a person younger than six
years of age, 17-A M.R.S. § 207(1)(B)
(2018). He pleaded not guilty to all charges.
In November of 2018, the court conducted a four-day jury
trial. In support of the allegation that the child's
injuries resulted from abuse inflicted by Coleman, the State
presented the testimony of Dr. Lawrence Ricci, a
board-certified child-abuse pediatrician. Dr. Ricci concluded
that, given the nature and extent of the child's injuries
and the absence of evidence that she was injured
accidentally, the child had sustained abusive head trauma-a
formal medical diagnosis, which he stated was
"clear-cut" in this case. Dr. Ricci explained that
the injury resulted from acceleration/deceleration of the
child's head due to shaking or blunt trauma or both. The
State also offered testimony from the child's neurologist
and radiologist that the injuries were caused by trauma and
were not attributable to natural causes. The neurologist
concluded that, due to the child's extensive injuries,
she would continue to suffer severe neurological delays and
faced the possibility of cerebral palsy, epilepsy,
intellectual disabilities, and impaired verbal communication
Coleman contended that the child was not assaulted but rather
that her condition resulted from a nontraumatic medical
emergency. To support that theory, Coleman presented
testimony from Dr. Joseph Scheller, a board-certified
pediatric neurologist, who told the jury that the child had
suffered a venous stroke and was not the victim of trauma.
Dr. Scheller stated that the child possibly had
thrombophilia, a potentially deadly vascular condition that
causes an abnormal amount of clotting. The following exchange
occurred during the State's cross-examination of Dr.
Q. Now, at what point, Dr. Scheller, did you reach out to any
one of these doctors and say [the child] potentially has this
A. I haven't done it.
Q. Is it not your obligation as a doctor if you believe a
child has a deadly disease that has gone undiagnosed to reach
out and to alert them to that?
A. Well, I did so in the letter. I don't know who the
letter was shared with and I'm not her treating
physician, I'm a physician who is consulted by her lawyer
so I am playing a completely different role.
Q. And you've taken a medical ethics class, have you,
At this point, Coleman objected, stating, "I think he
talked about his role in this case as being a consultant, not
a treater and I don't think we're talking about rules
of ethics here, I think we are going too far afield."
The court overruled the objection, and the State continued
Q. So I asked you about your medical ethics class. You took
that, that's a standard class you take in ...