When Brian and Lisa Dykstra brought their adopted baby boy home to Iowa City from Russia in 2005, their “dreams came true,” defense attorney Leon Spies told a 14-member jury Monday during the first day of Brian Dykstra’s murder trial.
“By all accounts, Brian Dykstra was an eager, loving father,” Spies told the nine female and five male jurors.
Dykstra was arrested in August 2008 and charged with second-degree murder after his 21-month-old son, Isaac, died with severe brain injuries on Aug. 14, 2005.
But Spies told jurors during opening statements of his client’s trial on Monday that Brian and Lisa Dykstra were devoted parents who shared a “strong faith.” They decided to adopt Isaac after learning they couldn’t have biological children.
Isaac had a clubfoot, and his parents paid for the best care – even though their insurance wouldn’t cover it, Spies said. Lisa Dykstra often would take baby Isaac to watch his dad play softball, according to Spies, and Brian Dykstra would have Isaac in his arms between innings.
“He loved his little boy,” Spies said.
On Aug. 10, 2005, according to the defense attorney, their lives changed forever. The boy fell head first onto a concrete floor, Spies told the jurors, and immediately exhibited bruising.
Over the next few days, Isaac showed other “subtle but important changes,” including a “squishy” spot on top of his head.
When Isaac began crying and holding his head on Aug. 13, 2005, Dykstra panicked, called 911 and then hung up, according to Spies.
“We all know people respond differently in a panic,” Spies said.
But prosecutors said that when paramedics responded, they found a pale child with bluish lips and fixed pupils. He had visible bruising near his ear and a soft spot on top of his head.
Assistant County Attorney Beth Beglin told jurors Monday that Dykstra explained to a first responder only that the boy had fallen a few days ago and bumped his head. Responders asked what happened that morning but “never got an answer as to what occurred,” Beglin said.
“The defendant talked about the dogs, the dogs outside and who was going to care for the dogs,” Beglin said. “He was distant and calm. There was no emotion or physical shaking, and no sign of him being distraught.”
The boy was rushed to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, and doctors determine he had severe head injuries, including a skull fracture, severe brain swelling and bruising.
Doctors said the injuries were not consistent with a fall down two steps that happened a few days before his arrival at the hospital on Aug. 13, 2005, Beglin told jurors. She said several doctors will testify that the child’s injuries were consistent with being shaken or slammed on the same day that he was hospitalized.
“This devastating brain injury was not accidental – it was a malicious act,” Beglin said. “And the only person who could have and did inflict that injury was the defendant, Brian Dykstra.”