Jeffrey Havard, 34, has been on death row in Parchman Penitentiary since 2002. He was convicted of murdering Chloe Britt, the six-month-old daughter of his girlfriend at the time. Havard claims he was giving the child a bath when, as he was lifting her from the tub, she slipped from his hands and fell, hitting her head on the toilet on the way down. By the time paramedics arrived with her at the hospital, Britt’s eyes were fixed and dilated, and she had turned blue. She died a short time later.
Dr. Steven Hayne, a Mississippi medical examiner in private practice, performed an autopsy on the infant. He claimed to have found the symptoms of Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS), a diagnosis that comes with the implication that the last person to be alone with the child was the one who killed her. Because the symptoms can only be produced by violent shaking, the diagnosis also comes with a built-in indictment of the suspect’s state of mind. It’s a diagnosis that does much of the prosecutor’s work for him.
But SBS has come under fire in recent years. A number of experts have begun to question the validity of the diagnosis and how it’s used in court, pointing out, for example, that a number of other factors could cause the symptoms that experts have been telling juries could be caused only by shaking. But even if one were to accept SBS as a sound and legitimate diagnosis, other forensic pathologists say Hayne shouldn’t have found it in this case. – Full post below:
Senior Writer and Investigative Reporter, The Huffington Post
We also encourage you to sign the petition requesting that Jeffrey Havard be granted a new trial:
BY LISA THOMPSON, Erie Times-News
An Erie County jury deliberated less than an hour Monday before clearing an Erie man of all charges he shook his girlfriend’s 14-month-old son so hard he inflicted brain damage a year ago.
Scott Drayer, 32, was acquitted of charges of aggravated assault, endangering the welfare of a child and reckless endangerment after the three-day trial.
As the verdict was read in Judge Daniel Brabender’s courtroom, Drayer, 32, put his face in his hands and wept.
Full Story Here:
When Shirley Ree Smithwas convicted of killing her grandson in a Van Nuys apartment in 1997, “shaken-baby syndrome” was all the rage.
If a baby showed signs of bleeding in the brain, the “shaken” diagnosis was a go-to — and the last person to have been in the same room with the baby was the prime suspect.
But a few years later, around the turn of the century, scientists began to question…
… if a shaking motion can really burst something in the brain. Dr. John Plunkett wrote an extensive paper on what he considered to be an urban legend, arguing that shaken-baby symptoms “might not immediately follow the injury, and that there were other, accidental sources for one of the ‘classic’ signs of SBS.”
By 2006, Plunkett’s theories had gained enough steam that the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Smith’s conviction, citing insufficient evidence that the grandma had killed her grandson. After a decade behind bars, she was allowed to go free.
However, proving that the syndrome is still very widely accepted (including by the American Academy of Pediatrics), a U. S. Supreme Court judge ordered she return to jail late last year.
That’s where Governor Jerry Brown stepped in – he commuted her sentence for good today, saying she won’t have to go back to jail.
“From my review of the information before me, including materials from the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office, it is clear that significant doubts surround Ms. Smith’s conviction,” says Brown in a statement.
That could include new findings that the L.A. County Coroner’s Office revealed last month, including “the complete absence of bodily trauma, such as face trauma, grab marks, bruises, rib fractures or neck trauma” in Smith’s seven-week-old grandson.
PBS spoke with Smith last month about what it’s like to “live in legal limbo.”
Here’s what happened on the night of the “crime,” according to City News Service:
Smith and her daughter, Tomeka, were staying at Tomeka’s sister’s apartment, along with Tomeka’s two older children. [Etzel Glass, the baby,] was put on a sofa to sleep, and his siblings and grandmother slept in the same room.According to testimony at the trial, Smith awoke to find Etzel on the floor. She reportedly rocked him back to sleep and placed him on the couch.
About two hours later, Smith awoke again and found that Etzel had thrown up and had blood coming out of one nostril, and that he was unresponsive, according to the testimony.
That was enough to convict Smith of second-degree murder.
But thanks to the governor, her nightmare is finally over. Unlike Schwarzenegger, who used his commuting powers to grant favors to political pals, Brown has done a solid for Smith — and for science — by erring on the skeptical side of “shaken-baby.”
**Please see source for three live interviews with Shirley Ree Smith
Short falls as the cause of the symptoms see in alleged shaken baby cases are an ongoing controversy between medical experts. Forensic pathologist John J. Plunkett of Minnesota however states that forensic science does support that short falls can cause these injuries and even death. http://medicalmisdiagnosisresearch.wordpress.com/?s=john+plunkett
How then does a man find himself on death row in the face of a much disputed theory, namely, shaken baby syndrome?
Jerry Mitchell reports:
Silence broken on death row decade later
After a decade of silence behind bars, Jeffrey Havard is speaking about the death of the 6-month-old that landed him on death row.
Ten years ago today, Chloe Britt died, and prosecutors say he sexually abused and killed her. Havard was convicted of capital murder. He admits accidentally dropping her but denies sexually abusing and killing her.
If the state Supreme Court rejects his post-conviction plea, he will move one step closer to execution.
“Not a morning, noon or night passes that I don’t think about Chloe and her family,” he told The Clarion-Ledger. “Words can’t describe how sorry I am for dropping Chloe. Without a second thought, I would do anything to bring her back.”
Read more at:
For more information on short falls also see:The following link to an article documents 3 cases of deaths from corroborated/witnessed short falls (10-20 feet). The author states that all three children had SDH and fractures. The author documents that 2 of 3 children had lucid intervals and all 3 children died after a delayed period following the fall. 2 of 3 children showed periorbital echymosis. One child suffered a SDH and severe brain swelling from a 6-foot fall onto a carpeted floor. 1 child fell 2-3 feet from a rocking chair. This article suggests that soft surfaces can still cause fatal injuries. Also, this article includes a lengthy literature review on shortfall debate.
Dr. Lloyd determined that biomechanical risk of brain injury due to non-contact shaking was no greater than that for his 7 month old son playing in his jumparoo. To view the complete report of this study, click the following link: Biomechanical Evaluation of Head Kinematics during Infant Shaking vs Pediatric Activities of Daily Living
A young couple walked free from court today after being cleared of killing their four-month-old son who was suffering from rickets.
Rohan Wray, 22, and Chana Al-Alas, 19, of Islington, north London, fell under suspicion when baby Jayden died suddenly two years ago.
But, following a six-week trial at the Old Bailey, charges of murder and causing or allowing his death were dropped
A jury returned not guilty verdicts on the direction of the judge after prosecutors withdrew the charges.
The couple, who were 16 and 19 when Jayden was born, hugged and kissed when they learned that their ordeal was over.
The court heard that Jayden died from brain damage and swelling but nearly 60 medical, professional and expert witnesses were unable to agree the cause.
The prosecution said the brain damage could only have been caused by the trauma of Jayden having been shaken or his head having been hit against something.
But the defence said it was only after the baby’s death that it was discovered he had rickets owing to an undiagnosed vitamin D deficiency in his mother.
This would have caused him to have weak bones, including a weak skull, and could have caused a series of fractures.
The medical condition was also blamed for complications which led to his death.
Barristers for the couple argued that they had been loving parents and had not put a foot wrong with Jayden’s care.
They had taken him to see doctors and to hospital when worried about his health.
Medical staff and health visitors had not detected anything wrong with him.
But after he stopped taking his bottle in July 2009, they took him to hospital and he died after having seizures and being transferred to Great Ormond Street Hospital.
Judge Stephen Kramer said it was unsafe to let the case go before the jury.
There was no evidence except the “triad” of head injuries which could be caused by shaken baby syndrome.
But no-one had been able to agree if the injuries were caused by trauma or medical complications.
Judge Kramer said: “The further and deeper one delves into the evidence, the more complex it becomes.”
He added: “We could not have got to this stage without a proper investigation, examination and exploration of the evidence on all sides.”
Wray and Al-Alas denied having caused any injury to Jayden and the defence maintained that the seizures and fractures were linked to rickets.
Sally O’Neill QC, defending Wray, told jurors: “Jayden was indeed a much-loved and cared-for baby.
“Their care for him was transparently that of loving parents, even though they were young.”
She said the couple had been “pre-judged” by doctors and police, but no-one had known how ill Jayden was.
Wray told the court he was “very excited at the thought of being a parent” when he found out his girlfriend was pregnant.
He said he was confused by the baby’s injuries.
Al-Alas told the court the baby had a cold. She looked into his mouth and found his tongue was in the roof of his mouth.
Asked if she or Wray had shaken the baby or injured him, she said: “Never.”
Her QC, Michael Turner, told the court there had never been any criticism of the couple’s care for the baby.
The case comes amid legal warnings to prosecutors that shaken baby cases should be supported by other evidence of abuse.
And some experts believe that breastfeeding mothers such as Al-Alas should be given vitamin D supplements.
Jenny Wiltshire, Al-Alas’s solicitor, said outside court: “Chana Al-Alas and Rohan Wray can now be allowed to grieve the tragic loss of their son who they loved and cherished.
“They have been through two and a half years of hell. They were prevented from comforting their dying son or attending his christening – all because clinicians at both hospitals failed to diagnose congenital rickets.”
She added: “The real criminality in this case is that, if the money spent on this case had been directed to fulfilling the 1991 Government directive that breastfeeding mothers be given vitamin D supplements, this death would not have occurred and rickets, which is now back up to epidemic proportions in this country, would have been wiped out.”
By all accounts, Shirley Ree Smith was a loving mother and grandmother, just trying to help her daughter raise her young children. Now, she is the latest victim of the junk science associated with shaken baby syndrome, in combination with the United States Supreme Court’s worship of procedure over substance, or legal technicality over true factual innocence. The result? Another innocent person sits in a jail cell, convicted of a crime that she likely did not commit.
On October 31, the Supreme Court pulled off quite a Halloween trick, twisting a legal technicality on its head in issuing a per curium reversal of the 9th Circuit grant of a Writ of Habeas Corpus in the case of CAVAZOS v. SMITH, No. 10–1115. (October 31, 2011).
The facts of Cavazos are that of the classic shaken baby syndrome, junk science, prosecution – including poor representation by a defense lawyer unqualified to handle a SBS case (“Moreover, Smith’s counsel . . . . represented her poorly at trial. In a case as trying as this one, competent counsel might have persuaded the jury to disbelieve the prosecution’s case.” Slip opinion, p 8; J. Ginsburg dissenting.)
On November 29, 1996, Tomeka put her son Etzel to bed on a sofa, and went to sleep in another room. The defendant, Shirley Ree Smith (Tomeka’s mother and Etzel’s grandmother) slept on the floor next to Etzel. Several hours later, Smith ran into Tomeka’s room with Etzel, who was unresponsive. When theEMT’s arrived, Etzel was not breathing and had no heartbeat. Smith told medical personnel that she thought Etzel fell from the sofa to the floor.
Etzel’s death was initially diagnosed as sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). However, after the autopsy the coroner concluded that the cause of death was shaken baby syndrome (SBS). When a hospital social worker informed Smith of that finding, Smith told her that Etzel had not responded to her touch while sleeping, so she had picked him up and given him “a little shake, a jostle” to wake him. According to the social worker, Smith then said something to the effect of, “Oh, my God. Did I do it? Did I do it? Oh, my God.” In an interview with the police a few days later, Smith said that she had shaken Etzel, but then she corrected herself and said that she had twisted him to try to elicit a reaction.
Smith was arrested and charged with assault on a child resulting in death. At trial, the jury heard several days of expert medical testimony – mainly focusing on the cause of Etzel’s death. The prosecution offered three experts: the medical examiner who performed the autopsy, the head medical examiner that reviewed the autopsy, and an expert in pediatrics. All three testified that Etzel’s death was the result ofSBS, and not SIDS, a short distance fall from the sofa, an old injury, or CPR. However, while Etzel suffered subdural hematomas and edema, the third injury in theSBStrial (retinal hemorrhages) was missing.
The defense called two experts to refute the diagnosis of shaken baby syndrome. First the defense called a pathologist, who testified that Etzel died from brain trauma related to an old injury, but given the lack of retinal hemorrhaging it was not the result of SBS. Then a pediatric neurologist testified that Etzel’s death was due to SIDS. The jury found Smith guilty.
Smith filed a motion for a new trial, attackingSBSand making a sufficiency of the evidence claim. The trial judge denied that motion, and sentenced her to 15 years to life in prison.
In her direct appeal, Smith again argued that the evidence was not sufficient to establish that Etzel died from shaken baby syndrome. The California Court of Appeal rejected this claim, concluding that “The conviction is supported by substantial evidence.” The California Supreme Court denied review.
Smith then filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus (28 U.S.C. § 2254) in the federal district court. The district court denied the petition, finding that the evidence at trial was “clearly sufficient to support a conviction.” On appeal, the Ninth Circuit reversed and ordered the district court to grant the writ. Smith v. Mitchell, 437 F. 3d 884 (2006). The Ninth Circuit held that there was “no evidence to permit an expert conclusion one way or the other” on the issue of the cause of Ezel’s death, and that because “[a]bsence of evidence cannot constitute proof beyond a reasonable doubt,” the state court of appeals had “unreasonably applied” federal law.
In a 6 to 3 per curium opinion, the United States Supreme Court reversed the 9th Circuit and denied the writ. Justices Breyer, Sotomayor and Ginsburg dissented. The Supreme Court cited to the 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (“AEDPA”) and the Supreme Court’s precedent in habeas cases, and reasoned that a federal court may not overturn a state court decision rejecting a sufficiency of the evidence challenge simply because the federal court disagrees with the state court. The federal court instead may do so only if the state court decision is “objectively unreasonable.”
The problem is that the Supreme Court does not practice what it preaches. The high court receives thousands of cert petitions every year, and grants a small handful for review. The cases it accepts are supposed to involve a novel constitutional question, or a split among the Circuit Courts of Appeal across the country. This case involved neither – as noted by the Supreme Court itself this is a factually intensive case involving dueling experts over the much criticized shaken baby syndrome phenomenon. As Justice Ginsburg correctly observed:
Beyond question, the Court today reviews a case as tragic as it is extraordinary and fact intensive. By taking up the case, one may ask, what does the Court achieve other than to prolong Smith’s suffering and her separation from her family. Is this Court’s intervention really necessary? Our routine practice counsels no.
In a truly chilling observation of the Supreme Court’s true motivation behind its decision, Justice Ginsburg noted in her dissent the significant chance that Smith was innocent, and went on to explain:
In sum, this is a notably fact-bound case in which the Court of Appeals unquestionably stated the correct rule of law. It is thus “the type of case in which we are most inclined to deny certiorari.” . . . . Nevertheless, the Court is bent on rebuking the Ninth Circuit for what it conceives to be defiance of our prior remands. I would not ignore Smith’s plight and choose her case as a fit opportunity to teach the Ninth Circuit a lesson.
Some observers of Shaken Baby cases have voiced concerns that this could cast serious doubt into the viability of Daubert challenges to the junk science behind SBS. However, this concern appears unwarranted. Daubert challenges toSBS remain very viable, and lawyers must continue to bring them based on the continually evolving science involved (an evolution discussed in detail in Justice Ginsburg’s dissent). The Supreme Court’s decision was a purely procedural ruling, holding that the Ninth Circuit erred under the AEDPA in reaching the merits of Smith’s claim of innocence. Regrettably, the Supreme Court once again refused to establish a federal/constitutional claim of actual innocence in Habeas cases, and ignored the increasingly important issues related to introducing new evidence, or the admissibility of scientific evidence, in motions for new trial or collateral post-conviction motions.
Mark A. Satawa practices in the area of criminal defense, specializing in forensic evidence and shaken baby cases. He is a member of the board of directors of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the Criminal Defense Lawyers of Michigan, and is a frequent continuing legal education speaker on shaken baby cases, most recently on April 3, 2009, at the NACDL annual forensic science seminar in Las Vegas.
- now Rioch Edwards-Brown’s a fighter for justice
Cradling her baby son, TV researcher Rioch Edwards-Brown stared in disbelief at the two social workers standing before her in the hospital room. Their lips were moving but she could barely make sense of what they were saying.
It was a moment that would fill any loving parent with horror. Rioch had just been told her six-month-old son Riordan — the baby she and her husband Ian had longed for — would be removed from her care in three days’ time.
Paralysed with shock, all she could focus on was the tiny bundle curled up against her chest and the voice inside her head telling her to breathe.
The memories of that Friday afternoon are as sharp today as they were 16 years ago.
‘For a split-second I couldn’t remember how to breathe,’ says the 46-year-old mother-of-four. ‘I couldn’t even tell you my name.’
Rioch and Ian found themselves thrust into a nightmare after a doctor decided their son’s ill health from birth — culminating in an unexplained fit — was caused by shaken baby syndrome. In other words, the caring parents were suspected of shaking Riordan until his brain bled.
The suspicions were unjustified. Medical notes would later back up the fact Riordan had suffered a brain bleed during his premature birth, but by that time child protection proceedings had started — and seemed unstoppable. There were three court hearings and Rioch and Ian fought for nearly a decade to clear their names.
Today, that tiny fragile baby is a strapping young man who loves sport and is studying for A-levels after gaining 12 GCSEs. As for Rioch, she gave up her job working alongside her TV producer husband and started helping other parents facing similar ordeals.
For 15 years, without pay or outside funding, she has run The Five Percenters, a support group that takes its name from the fact that one in 20 cases of shaken baby syndrome is misdiagnosed. From a desk in the living room of her family home in New Cross, South-East London, Rioch, runs the 24-hour free advisory service.
Rioch and Ian’s fight for justice cost £50,000, but since then they have remortgaged their home and spent £250,000 funding the support group in the hope that other parents accused of shaking their babies or other abuse are spared the agony they faced.
Rioch — who also battled a benign brain tumour in 2009 — never imagined the nightmare ahead when she met Ian in 1990.
Their early hopes for children were cruelly crushed when she suffered a series of miscarriages caused by a cervical condition which doctors cured. She went on to have Riordan in 1995. He was born six weeks early, weighing 6lb 3oz.
The couple were delighted, although Rioch soon doubted his health. ‘He’d cry then suddenly stop,’ she said. ‘He looked beaten up, like he’d gone 10 rounds with Mike Tyson.’
Over the following months Riordan’s fragile health meant frequent tests.
‘Eventually, a doctor said he had suffered a brain bleed commonly associated with premature babies,’ recalls Rioch. ‘As we were leaving she said, “You haven’t ever dropped him have you?” I laughed and said, “No.” ’
But Rioch had a niggling doubt something more serious was wrong.
A week later, Riordan suffered a fit and ended up back at King’s College Hospital, London.
Days of tests and questions followed. ‘When the consultant told us Riordan had suffered the sort of bleed they would expect to see in a child with a lot of trauma I just couldn’t take in.
‘Ian said, “Do you mean like a boxer’s punch?”
She replied, “Yes, or Riordan being shaken and swung around by the ankles against a hard surface.”
‘I was told that if I made any attempt to leave the ward the police would be called.’
Rioch suddenly realised the finger of suspicion was pointing at her and Ian — and they were devastated when two social workers revealed they would apply to take Riordan into care within days.
Reeling with shock, they sought legal help and were able to keep Riordan. Three months later, with clear medical evidence pointing to injuries caused by birth trauma rather than abuse, a High Court judge threw out their case.
However, it took eight years before the shaken baby accusation was removed from council and hospital records.
Rioch and Ian went on to have three more children, but were terrified each time one fell sick, fearful they could be accused again.
‘I couldn’t afford for Riordan to get as much as a bruise,’ she says.
‘It was after I did a television interview and 40 families got in touch that I thought about starting the Five Percenters. I found myself wondering how a family without the support and contacts we had would ever stand up against this?’
Over the past 15 years Rioch has helped more than 4,000 families worldwide facing a similar ordeal. ‘Of course, it is disgusting that genuine abuse exists,’ she adds.
‘There will always be people who say they are innocent and are not. But I feel we have a duty to people like us who are wrongly accused. We were told we were a “one-off”, a mistake. But if they can make a mistake once, they can do it again.’
Rioch’s vision, called 24:14, is for a nationwide hospital protocol ensuring all children suspected of being abuse victims are seen by paediatric specialists within 24 hours of admission and for the case to be reviewed within 14 days — sparing the agony of misdiagnosis and cases slipping through the net.
‘Doctors said Riordan wouldn’t walk, talk or swallow,’ she says. ‘But he is now built like a rugby player, eats me out of house and home and never stops talking. He’s amazing.
‘When people say to me, “Why do you do what you do?” I tell them that I have my kids when the majority of families who come to me don’t. I consider myself very fortunate.’
The Ninth Circuit learns a lesson at the expense of Ms. Shirley Ree Smith. She will most likely be back in prison before Christmas even though she had previously had a conviction for shaken baby syndrome overturned. Andrew Rosenthal, with the New York Times states in his article ” That doesn’t sit well with us” – I agree.
Shaken Baby SyndromeBy ANDREW ROSENTHAL
The Republican presidential candidates Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum say the Ninth Circuit appeals court, based in San Francisco, should be abolished because they often disagree with its rulings. Apparently the appellate court has some detractors on the Supreme Court, too.
Take a look at the Supreme Court’s first ruling of the 2011 term, issued on Monday in a case entitled Javier Cavazos, Acting Warden v. Shirley Ree Smith. (Just runs trippingly off the tongue, doesn’t it?) Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who dissented along with Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor, says bluntly that the majority chose this “case as a fit opportunity to teach the Ninth Circuit a lesson.”
I can tell a bad decision when I see one, but I don’t pretend to be an expert in the intricacies of Supreme Court decisions. So I asked our editorial board Supreme Court writer, Lincoln Caplan, for his take.
The case, Linc told me, is about a tragic death and conviction: Ms. Smith’s seven-week-old grandson died while in her care , and she was found guilty in a California trial of causing the baby’s death by shaking him. She was sentenced to 15 years to life. The Ninth Circuit noted that there are “very strict limits” for an appellate court to review a state criminal conviction, but in this case it found “no demonstrable support” for Ms. Smith’s conviction, and overturned it.
Now the Supreme Court has stepped in – to vacate the Ninth Circuit’s judgment on the premise that “it is the responsibility of the jury—not the court—to decide what conclusions should be drawn from evidence admitted at trial.” Linc and I detect a bit of glee in this rebuke.
Justice Ginsburg, however, wonders if it’s the Supreme Court, rather than the Ninth Circuit, that’s overreaching: “The Court’s summary disposition of this case, in my judgment, is a misuse of discretion.” She asks “Is this Court’s intervention really necessary?”
Ultimately our reaction to this case has little to do with process. It’s hard for me to set aside that doctors now question whether infants can be fatally injured through shaking alone. Deborah Tuerkheimer, a professor of law at DePaul University and former assistant district attorney in Manhattan, wrote about it on our Op-Ed page in September 2010 and Emily Bazelon picked up the subject again for the Times Sunday Magazine in February this year.
Shirley Ree Smith, now 51, served 10 years of her sentence. She has been free for five years since the Ninth Circuit overturned her conviction, but she is expected to return to prison before Christmas. That doesn’t sit well with us.
The ‘Mary Poppins’ jailed for life for a child murder she didn’t commit… and saved by the love of a man who never stopped believing in her innocence
By Angela Levin
The solicitors and barristers barely glanced at the somewhat overweight man hovering at the entrance to Leeds Crown Court.
With his casual clothes and shaven head, he clearly wasn’t a legal professional.
Possibly the lawyers passing by that grey morning thought he looked likelier to be one of those due to appear in the dock.
Few accepted one of the photocopied documents he was trying to hand out.
Of the handful who did, not many bothered to read it, but anyone who made the effort would have quickly revised their opinion of its author.
Lee Spencer, a lorry driver who left school at 16, was a man with a mission.
His long-term partner Suzanne Holdsworth had been convicted of murdering Kyle Fisher, a two-year-old she had been babysitting in her home in Hartlepool.
Tragic death: Suzanne was wrongly jailed for killing Kyle Fisher
It was a terrible miscarriage of justice: an Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) report published last week says Cleveland Police should consider apologising to Suzanne over the case.
At the trial in Teeside Crown Court in 2005, the prosecution portrayed her as a lying, callous, manipulative woman who killed Kyle in a fit of rage. She was sentenced to life imprisonment.
Lee did not recognise the woman described by the prosecution. He knew that the woman he had loved for nearly 20 years, the mother of their daughter Jamieleigh, now 17, and, Lesley, 22, her daughter from a previous relationship – was not a murderer.
Flatly refusing to accept his own lawyers’ advice that there were no grounds for appeal, he made up his mind that he would prove Suzanne’s innocence.
‘I went to Leeds Crown Court with sheets of A4 paper outlining Suzanne’s charge, conviction and the problems with the case,’ he explains.
‘I printed dozens of copies to hand out to anyone in a wig. I was desperate for someone to listen to my story. I didn’t get anywhere, but I vowed that I would never give up and that the harder it got, the more I would fight.’
A neutral observer assessing Lee’s chances against the legal and medical establishments would have said they were slim.
He couldn’t expect any help from the police, who appeared to think this an open-and-shut case. Suzanne’s own legal team had proved less than effective.
Lee didn’t know the first thing about neuropathology or the law. Indeed, he hadn’t had much in the way of formal education at all.
But he did know right from wrong and wasn’t prepared to let an injustice stand.
Undaunted by the seemingly insurmountable obstacles, he began to devote every spare moment to reading up on brain science and legal procedure.
With extraordinary determination and tenacity, Lee trawled the internet and spoke to specialists round the world until he found medical and legal experts who viewed the case in a totally different light.
After a successful appeal, Suzanne, who had spent three horrendous years in the ‘lifers’ wing of HMP Low Newton in County Durham, was cleared at a retrial in December 2008.
Lee’s friends and family see him as a hero.
‘I don’t understand it,Anyone would do the same.’ he says modestly, as we talk in the family’s immaculately clean two bedroom council house in a Leeds suburb. ’
Suzanne looks at Lee lovingly and whispers: ‘I owe my life to him.’
Nor did Lee rest after Suzanne’s release. Outraged by how both the original defence team and Cleveland Police had handled the case, he demanded an explanation.
In January 2009, Lee was promised an investigation by the IPCC. He drew up a list of 27 questions he wanted answering.
The report was finally published last Tuesday. The IPCC commissioner Nicholas Long said that the IPCC could not force Cleveland Police to apologise ‘but I believe it is the right thing to do’.
To say Lee is angry and disappointed is an understatement.
‘The whole thing has been a waste of time and taxpayers’ money,’ he says. ‘They have sugar-coated every mistake and written in circles round
everything. No one accepts blame.
There are no suggestions for changes or overall conclusions.’ As far as he is concerned, the matter is not over.
Lee, 40, and Suzanne, 41, first met in 1990. Suzanne was friendly with his brother.
When they bumped into each other at a bus stop, Lee asked her out for dinner and they have been devoted to each other ever since.
The relationship was quickly established as traditional and rather old-fashioned, even though they have not married.
‘I was in charge and the family bread-winner,’ Lee says. ‘When the children were small I’d be away all week driving across Europe.
Suzanne, who worked in a supermarket, was responsible for the home and the children.’
The events leading up to Suzanne’s wrongful imprisonment began in July 2004.
Every weekday for a year, toddler Kyle Fisher, whom Suzanne had known since birth, had arrived at her house in Hartlepool to play.
He was one of a band of little ones who gravitated to her – Suzanne’s friends even nicknamed her ‘Mary Poppins’.
‘I liked having an open house and there was always someone for Kyle to play with,’ Suzanne says.
‘He was bright, very funny and I loved him to bits’.
His 19-year-old single mum Clare, a friend and neighbour, was struggling to cope and Lee and I had even begun talking about adopting him.’
In the subsequent trial it emerged that Clare was a negligent mother.
Suzanne was babysitting Kyle on the evening of July 21 when he suddenly went ‘all floppy’.
She immediately called an ambulance and is recorded saying: ‘He’s not breathing, his eyes are rolling and everything.’
It is a classic description of an epileptic fit.
Kyle was rushed to hospital, where he was well-known to doctors, having been taken there several times already during his short life, suffering from head injuries sustained while in the care of his mother.
This time his brain was badly swollen. Doctors strove to save him but he died two days later.
Suzanne was charged with his murder. When the ‘guilty’ verdict was announced, she collapsed in shock.
‘I didn’t think I would go to jail because I had done nothing wrong,’ she explains simply.
‘I didn’t speak to anyone in my first week there, they put me on suicide watch, under constant supervision by a staff member.
‘I was so traumatised that it took me months to fully realise I was in jail for the rest of my life. I sat on a chair in the corner of my prison-hospital cell and rocked backwards and forwards crying for Lee and the children.’
S]he simply could not face it and decided to take her own lif.
suddenly said, “If you had killed yourself Mum I would have had to kill myself too, so I could still be with you.”
‘I thought to myself, “What are you doing?” The moment I got back to my cell, I handed over my entire store of tablets to a nurse.’
She is racked by sobs again: Lee and Jamieleigh reach over the dining room table to hold her hand.
The trial had centred on medical evidence from a now deceased Home Office forensic pathologist, Dr James Sunter, who said Kyle had died from repeated blows to the brain.
This happened, said the prosecution, when Suzanne repeatedly smashed Kyle’s head against a wooden bannister with a force equal to that of a 60mph car crash.
Oddly, the defence made nothing of the fact that the bannister was left intact and unmarked by any hair, tissue or blood.
Because neither the police, pathologist or defence team looked properly at Kyle’s medical history, the jury did not know he had suffered an eye injury a year before he died which had caused major brain damage and was nothing to do with Suzanne.
Nor did the jury hear that two surgeons examined him six months before his death, planned to operate on the brain injury and recorded their concerns in medical notes.
The brain damage could have caused Kyle to have a fatal fit.
Dr Waney Squier, the most experienced paediatric neuropathologist in Britain, gave evidence in the retrial.
He says: ‘This case needed to be handled by lawyers who understood the issues. Unfortunately, sometimes lawyers take on cases they do not understand.
‘It is like going to a GP with a rare disease but having him deal with it himself rather than giving a referral to a specialist.’
But Lee unearthed medical research to shed fresh light on Kyle’s death.
He took his findings to a number of lawyers until he found solicitor Campbell Malone, who told him it constituted grounds for an appeal.
Appeal Court Judges Lord Justice Toulson, Mr Justice Aikens and Judge Michael Baker ruled the conviction unsafe.
A retrial was ordered, at which new neuropathologists, Dr Squier of the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford and John Plunkett, forensic pathologist at Regina Medical Centre in Minnesota, USA – gave evidence that it was more than likely that Kyle had died from a massive epileptic fit due to a previous brain injury.
In addition, William Dobyns, professor of genetics, neurology and pathology at the University of Chicago, gave evidence that Kyle had at least five abnormalities of the brain.
In December 2008, the jury unanimously found Suzanne not guilty. She was released immediately.
Dr Squier says now: ‘When I examined Kyle’s brain I noted several congenital abnormalities, including some that may cause epilepsy.
‘He also had an old fracture to the roof of his eye socket. Part of his brain was pushing down into it, pushing the eye forward.
‘In addition, he had bruising from apparently falling out of bed the night before his collapse while in the care of his mother.
‘In this latter kind of head injury the brain can take up to 72 hours to swell. Thus it is possible for a child to have what is known as a lucid interval, between the injury occurring and collapsing, when the child seems fine.
‘My judgement is that what happened to Kyle was almost certainly a substantial fatal seizure.
‘He would have died as a result of these injuries in anyone’s care. It just happened to be Suzanne’s.
‘In this case the assumption that the last one holding the baby is guilty led to a failure to consider all the relevant details.
‘If the lucid interval had been recognised, a proper investigation could have been undertaken to examine all possible causes, accidental or not.’
Suzanne’s scars are deep.
No innocent person can come out of jail after being labelled a child murderer and seamlessly pick up their life.
‘I spend most of my days cleaning,’ she says. ‘It stops me from thinking.’
She rarely goes out and in a way her home has replaced her cell.
‘I have to have the front door locked all the time even when I am home. It is the only place I feel safe and where no one can get me.
‘Before 2004, I was a bubbly, lively person. Now, if I see a policeman when I am out I get really nervous.
‘My world has shrunk. I no longer want to see friends and don’t trust anyone. I am best with just the three of us here at home.
‘When I first came home I was very jealous of the relationship Lee had built up with my daughters and felt those years had been stolen from me.
‘It was difficult for Jamieleigh and, after a year, we were having terrible arguments all the time.’
‘We are fine now, Mum,’ her daughter interrupts as she again reaches for her mother’s hand. Jamieleigh, now 17, despite being deeply affected by her mother’s imprisonment, managed to achieve a remarkable 15 GCSEs.
She is about to join the Royal Military Police.
Lesley, Suzanne’s other daughter, lives nearby with her boyfriend and their two children.
How does Suzanne see her future?
‘I feel at least 20 years older than my 41 years,’ she says with a rueful smile.
‘The police took me away from my family for something I didn’t do and they won’t even admit they have done something wrong. I haven’t even had an apology.’
Lee plans to fight on to secure one: it is surely the very least this brave couple can expect.
Given Lee’s single-minded resolve in pursuit of justice for Suzanne, he must have every chance of success.
A baby boy has blood on both sides of his brain as well as in his retinas. The experts claimed it was shaken baby syndrome, but following closing arguments a jury has decided it was not shaken baby syndrome.
Shaking a child is a violent act, but what if there are no outward signs of injury? The Prosecution claimed the boy was shaken and thrown, yet where was the bruising, broken bones or damaged neck to support this?
Investigating all possible differential diagnosis’ is the responsibility of the medical professionals involved but instead we are seeing dissension among the experts brought into the courtroom and juries are left with the responsibility of discerning innocence or guilt.
By James D. Wolf Jr. Post-Tribune correspondent June 16, 2011 9:06PM
A Porter County jury took about two hours Thursday to find a former home day-care provider not guilty of abusing a 6-month-old, leading to his death.
Deborah R. Parlock, 56, of Chesterton faced a 20- to 50-year sentence if jurors had found her guilty of felony battery resulting in the death of a person less than 14 years of age.
Defense attorneys John Vouga and Nick Barnes had argued that the death of Nicholas B. Munden was a result of his poor health.
“I never doubted Debbie’s innocence since the day she walked into my office,” Vouga said after the verdict was announced. “From the minute she called 911, she has told the truth about what happened.”
He said her story never changed, that the child was fine the morning of Sept. 19, 2008, then made odd noises and began having trouble breathing — no accidents happened.
The infant went into a coma and never came out, dying 10 days later when his parents decided to shut off life support at University of Chicago’s Comer Children’s Hospital.
An autopsy showed the boy had blood on both sides of his brain and in his retinas, which can indicate shaken baby syndrome.
“This case comes down to medical testimony,” Deputy Prosecutor Matthew Frost said in closing argument.
During the unusually long 45-minute closing arguments, Frost and Vouga tried to discredit the others’ expert witnesses.
Frost said Vouga’s experts had not dealt directly with the child, just reports, and their theories were based on adult cases.
The Comer’s doctors unanimously said it was abuse, he said.
Vouga agreed the case was about medical testimony, and his medical experts said many of the child’s symptoms before the incident — excessive sleeping, an unusual cry and severe vomiting — were signs of fluid on the brain that could have led to his death.
“It also boiled down to the police not doing their job. They did not interview a single parent,” Vouga said.
One parent testified Wednesday that she called to ask Porter County Sheriff’s detectives to interview her 4-year-old.
Vouga also said during closing that the prosecution argued Parlock shook the baby and threw him on the floor, but the boy had no bruises or broken bones.