Thursday, April 3, 2014

Bulletin: Rennie Gibbs: Mississippi; Major development; A judge has dismissed her "depraved heart" murder case. Her lawyer says the defence had filed several motions relating to "the science" and other facts in the case that had been found to be compelling. Controversial pathologist Steven Hayne played a major role in the conviction; Link to entire decision provided: The Dispatch.

STORY:"Breaking: Judge dismisses Rennie Gibbs' depraved heart murder case," by reporter Sarah Fowler, published by The Dispatch on April 3, 2014.

GIST: "The murder charge against Columbus resident Rennie Gibbs has been dismissed by Lowndes County Circuit Court Judge Jim Kitchens. Gibbs, 24, was charged with depraved heart murder for her alleged role in the 2006 stillborn death of her child. Prosecutors said Gibbs caused the child's death by using cocaine during her pregnancy. Gibbs was 16 at the time of the child's stillbirth. She was arrested and charged with depraved heart murder, the first woman charged with the crime in the State of Mississippi. Depraved heart murder is defined as an act that demonstrates a "calous disregard for human life."   Kitchens dismissed the charge against Gibbs Wednesday. Citing Mississippi Supreme Court case Buckhalter v. State, he said the law was unclear on the appropriate charge for Gibbs.  "Gibbs was indicted prior to Buckhalter and the law was unclear in Mississippi as to the appropriate charge, if any, to be levied when a pregnant woman allegedly consumed illegal drugs and allegedly caused the death of her unborn child," Kitchens ruling stated.  He added, "Accordingly, pursuant to the Mississippi Supreme Court's ruling this case for depraved heart murder is dismissed without prejudice."  Assistant District Attorney Mark Jackson said the state would re-present the case to the grand jury at the end of July. ........Gibb's attorney Carrie Jourdan said she was elated with Kitchens' decision but was disappointed the DA's office would attempt to try the case again.  "Well first, I believe that Judge Kitchens has summed up the law correctly and accurately and obviously we believe he has done the right thing according to the law," she said. We are incredibly relieved for our client who has been through a great deal. I'm of course disappointed that the state is considering a manslaughter case against her. With that possibility looming, I can't say a great deal except we had filed separate motions related to the science and other facts in this case that we found equally compelling.""

The entire story can be found at:

See ProPublica story: Excellent background and analysis; "Rennie Gibbs’s daughter, Samiya, was a month premature when she simultaneously entered the world and left it, never taking a breath. To experts who later examined the medical record, the stillborn infant’s most likely cause of death was also the most obvious: the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck. But within days of Samiya’s delivery in November 2006, Steven Hayne, Mississippi’s de facto medical examiner at the time, came to a different conclusion. Autopsy tests had turned up traces of a cocaine byproduct in Samiya’s blood, and Hayne declared her death a homicide, caused by “cocaine toxicity.” In early 2007, a Lowndes County grand jury indicted Gibbs, a 16-year-old black teen, for “depraved heart murder” — defined under Mississippi law as an act “eminently dangerous to others…regardless of human life.” By smoking crack during her pregnancy, the indictment said, Gibbs had “unlawfully, willfully, and feloniously” caused the death of her baby. The maximum sentence: life in prison..........The quality of the science is very much an issue in the Gibbs case.In a motion to throw out Hayne’s autopsy report, defense lawyers have claimed that that the medical examiner misinterpreted toxicology results and failed to explore alternative causes of death. Those claims are not the first time Hayne’s work has come under attack. Indeed, Hayne — who effectively served as Mississippi’s statewide medical examiner from the late 1980s to 2008, eventually performing 80 to 90 percent of the autopsies in the state annually — has been a hugely influential and controversial figure in the criminal justice system there for years. In litigation (much of it by the Mississippi Innocence Project) and news reports (many of them by Radley Balko, now of the Washington Post), defense lawyers and other medical examiners have accused Hayne of being sloppy, exaggerating his credentials, and leaping to conclusions that sometimes had no basis in science. At least four murder convictions based on Hayne’s evidence — one involving an innocent man sentenced to death for the killing of a three-year-old girl — have been overturned since 2007. Despite having failed to complete his certification test by the American Board of Pathology, Hayne not only practiced for two decades in Mississippi and nearby states, but by his own estimate he performed as many as 1,800 autopsies a year (the National Association of Medical Examiners recommends that a single doctor conduct no more than 250).  Mississippi stopped hiring Hayne in 2008, but he continues to testify in cases that he handled before then. In their court filing, Gibbs’s lawyers cited a capital murder conviction of a 14-year-old boy that the Mississippi Supreme Court overturned because of what it called "scientifically unfounded" testimony by Hayne. That case involved both the prosecutor and the judge handling the Gibbs prosecution."


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