Attorneys spar over cause of Duluth boy's death as judge prepares to issue verdict

Multiple doctors who examined Cameron Gordon concluded he died of abusive head trauma. An expert witness for Jordan Carter has another theory: pneumonia.

Jordan William Carter

DULUTH — Witnesses at a trial last month described Jordan William Carter as a father figure to his former fiancee's 3-year-old son, Cameron Joseph Gordon.

FILE: Cameron Joseph Gordon
Cameron Joseph Gordon

The Duluth man, furloughed during the COVID-19 pandemic, had taken care of the boy most days over the course of six months at his family's Lakeside neighborhood home, a cramped single-family residence where his own son and other children also resided.

Carter reportedly had a patient and affectionate demeanor toward the curious and energetic Cameron, who had "ups and downs" and was being tested for autism, and witnesses could not recall any major conflicts.

So what happened Sept. 4, 2020?

St. Louis County prosecutor Vicky Wanta suggested Carter grew increasingly frustrated with Cameron that day, ultimately losing his patience and fatally assaulting the child in a momentary lapse of judgment.


"The question of whether Cameron was shaken, slammed, pushed or thrown into something will never be answered," Wanta told a judge. "But what is known, by every doctor of every specialty in every medical facility that Cameron was at, was that the injuries to Cameron’s brain and eyes were caused by an acceleration-deceleration force with a rotational component, and that this is a force that is not found in nature; it doesn’t occur accidentally."

Common sense and reason are enough to know that doctors err, sometimes in very serious ways.
Attorney Eric Olson

Carter's attorney, Eric Olson, claimed the prosecution's entire case "flies in the face of common sense." He cited an alternate medical theory that caused Cameron to suddenly collapse and die two days later: severe and chronic interstitial pneumonia.

"Common sense and reason are enough to know that doctors err, sometimes in very serious ways," Olson said. "Diseases are misdiagnosed, or not diagnosed at all. ... The line that separates a confident medical diagnosis from sheer hubris is thin, and a medical diagnosis is not sufficient to sustain a finding of proof beyond a reasonable doubt."

After attorneys filed lengthy closing arguments in recent weeks, Carter's fate is in the hands of just one person: Judge Theresa Neo. She took the matter under advisement Monday and is expected to announce a verdict at a hearing next Tuesday.

Carter, 32, who faces a count of unintentional second-degree murder, waived his right to a jury and opted to have Neo serve as the sole fact-finder in the trial, which included testimony from numerous medical professionals over two weeks in early January.

Innocent messages or escalating frustration?

Wanta and Olson seemed to agree on many of the events leading up to the fatal incident, though they offered radically different interpretations of the evidence.

Carter told police that he was in the kitchen preparing dinner Sept. 3 when he heard Cameron fall down the stairs at their home on the 4800 block of East Colorado Street. He said he went to check on the child and saw that he "bounced up like it's no big deal," but later vomited on two occasions and didn't eat for the rest of the day. He also had his mother, a nurse, check for concussion symptoms.

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Carter said Cameron appeared back to normal the next day until he "just went down" after 5 p.m. and could not be roused. The boy's mother, Heather Bouchard, arrived home a short time later and they ended up calling 911 while driving to the hospital.


Wanta cited evidence that Carter that day had referred to Cameron in a text message as "Satan;" said he would let the child "suffer" when he complained of being cold; and described putting him through a "quick little boot camp." Meanwhile, she said, Carter watched TV, messaged friends and played video games.

The prosecutor said Carter gave three diverging accounts at the hospital and in subsequent statements to police, claiming he spent anywhere between 10-20 minutes doing things like shaking Cameron and throwing water on him in an attempt to wake the unresponsive child.

That is an oddly long time to do everything but call for help.
St. Louis County prosecutor Vicky Wanta

"Mr. Carter had his phone on him the entire time that he was with Cameron because when 911 was finally called at 5:35 p.m., it was dialed off Mr. Carter’s phone," Wanta wrote. "That is an oddly long time to do everything but call for help."

Olson, however, argued the prosecutor was turning innocuous jokes and euphemisms into a desperate attempt to establish a motive for murder. He maintained that Carter provided consistent statements and said his initial estimate of 20 minutes elapsing was a "terrible" guess based on stress.

"Does it make any sense whatsoever that a man with Mr. Carter’s character and reputation for being calm and peaceful would live the first 30 ½ years of his life without ever committing a criminal act of violence, only to suddenly descend into a fit of homicidal violence against a child with whom he had, by all accounts, an excellent and loving relationship?" the defense attorney asked.

Defense expert disputes official findings

Wanta made it clear that acquitting Carter would require Neo to override the findings of every doctor who played a role in personally treating and examining Cameron, from Essentia Health in Duluth to Children's Minnesota in the Twin Cities to the Hennepin County Medical Examiner's Office.

All pointed to abuse head trauma — a term that includes what was formerly called shaken baby syndrome. Doctors called by Wanta testified that Cameron had severe injuries that result in bleeding from both sides of the brain, along with retinal hemorrhaging in the eyes, and several other documented injuries, including a healing rib fracture.

A neurosurgeon testified that Cameron Gordon, 3, appeared to suffer severe abuse shortly before he was admitted to the hospital, undercutting the account of defendant Jordan Carter.

Dr. Albert Meric, an Essentia neurosurgeon, testified that Cameron's fatal injury must have occurred shortly before he had been admitted to the hospital in grave condition.


"Further, (medical examiner) Dr. (Lorren) Jackson explained that the timeline of Cameron falling down the stairs, vomiting and then returning to his baseline, then suddenly collapsing is not how the brain works and is not how the symptoms of Cameron’s fatal brain injury would present," Wanta wrote.

Olson, though, said Carter wasn't arguing the staircase incident had any role in Cameron's death. The defense called just one witness to support its pneumonia theory: Dr. Roland Auer, a neuropathologist at Royal University Hospital in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

Auer, who has provided similar testimony in child death cases throughout the United States and Canada, argued that pneumonia remains the leading cause of death for children under age 5, but doctors today view it as a condition of the past.

"Taken together, all of the evidence Dr. Auer observed during his microscopic review of Cameron’s lung tissue amounts to one undeniable result: Cameron Gordon had a severe lung infection that inflamed the tissues in his lungs and made it difficult for his lungs to oxygenate his blood," Olson wrote.

"Whole sections of Cameron’s lungs were solid and unbreathable. The remaining portions contained vast quantities of numerous cell types indicating that Cameron’s immune system had been responding to infection for a long time. The tissue itself was scarred from this long process. Cameron’s lungs were undeniably damaged from chronic, severe infection."

Further citing Auer's findings, Olson said severe pneumonia ultimately causes cardiac arrest, and resuscitation attempts led to the observed hemorrhaging in Cameron's brain and eyes.

"The state’s doctors misdiagnosed Cameron because of fallacial reasoning and a failure to consider non-traumatic causes," Olson wrote, claiming the defense went "unrebutted" by the prosecution and, therefore, creates a reasonable doubt that requires the judge to acquit Carter.

Wanta, however, ripped the credibility of Auer, who she said at times "argued against simple anatomy principles;" "took a bold stance and denounced the laws of physics;" complained of "groupthink" mentality in medicine; denied the accepted science behind abusive head trauma; and admitted he was once reported for conducting unauthorized experiments on the brains of the deceased.


The prosecutor asked the judge to look at Cameron's "constellation of injuries" and find that the only logical cause was some assault inflicted by Carter.

"The doctors who treated Cameron explained how important it is to collaborate with each other because they all have specialized knowledge in different medical fields and need to share that specialized knowledge and perspective with each other to understand the bigger picture," Wanta said. "Dr. Auer, on the other hand, played the role of every doctor in his review of Cameron’s case."

The Memory Keepers Medical Discovery Team have partnered with area Indigenous communities to increase awareness and caregiving resources for Alzheimer's and related dementias.

Tom Olsen has covered crime and courts for the Duluth News Tribune since 2013. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota Duluth and a lifelong resident of the city. Readers can contact Olsen at 218-723-5333 or
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