On a cold Wednesday evening in January 2009, Josh Miller was finishing his 8:00-to-5:00 shift as an automotive detailer at a garage in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. It was just like any other day; he was tired and ready to go home. But that evening, his life would change forever. In just a few hours, Miller would find himself to be one of thousands of people embroiled in an ongoing national medical debate.
After work, Miller picked up his two-month-old son, Rhys (pronounced "Reese"), from the restaurant where his fiancée worked, and headed home with the boy. The two ate dinner and relaxed, sitting together on the couch. They were watching TV — Miller doesn’t remember which show — when the boy started to cry. Miller, who was 32 at the time, tried to soothe Rhys by patting the little boy’s belly and making shushing sounds. But Rhys continued to cry. And cry. And then cry some more. Soon, the cries became uncontrollable, Rhys’ voice cracking and distorting as he filled the air with as much sound as he could muster after each pained breath.
This wasn’t exactly a new thing for Rhys. Miller and his fiancée had other children, and they knew Rhys was colicky. So, as Miller tells it, he did what he’d done in the past with Rhys: he drew a bath. But as Miller filled the tub, the boy’s screams stopped. When Miller went to see why, he found that the boy hadn’t suddenly calmed himself on his own. He’d gone unconscious. And he wouldn’t wake up.
Next: a whirlwind, a nightmare. He called 911, frantic. He called his fiancée at work. There was a frenzied trip to the closest hospital. Relatives showing up. Panic in the emergency room. Then an ambulance ride over dangerously snow-covered roads to the closest Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh, two hours away. Days of waiting. Doctors and doctors and more doctors poking and prodding the infant.
It looked like Rhys would pull through — he regained consciousness two days after Miller called 911 — but one of his doctors became suspicious about why Rhys had gone unconscious in the first place. Miller claims the doctor — Dr. Janet Squires, chief of the Child Advocacy Center at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh — asked if he had a criminal record. He did — two minor drug charges and a harassment charge. After that conversation, Miller remembers telling his fiancée, "Be prepared, they're gonna point this at me."
They did. Based on a brain scan and conversations with other doctors at Children’s, Dr. Squires determined that Miller’s story was a lie: Rhys had not lost consciousness because he had been crying uncontrollably; he lost consciousness after being shaken so violently that his brain began to bleed. Miller was the only possible culprit. Within a week, he was in jail. Within 16 months, he was on trial. And by March 2011, Miller was in prison, serving a maximum of 10 years. The charges: aggravated assault, endangering the welfare of a child, recklessly endangering another person, and simple assault resulting in shaken baby syndrome (SBS).