Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Major development: Hannah Overton: Texas: Mother of 5 freed pending new trial after spending years in prison for foster son's murder. Convicted in 2007 fter being accused of force-feeding Andrew enough salt to kill him, even though she had no previous problems with the law and was raising four children and was pregnant with a fifth. ABC News.

STORY: "Texas mother of 5 freed after spending years in prison for foster son's murder," by reporters Juju Chang, Shana Druckerman and Jon Meyersohn, published by ABC News on December 16, 2014.

See Guardian story on Overton's successful appeal: "Before the boy’s death the Overtons had appeared admirable parents to many who knew them. But at Hannah’s trial, which was televised and attracted voracious media interest, she was depicted as a calculating child abuser who punished a naughty boy by force-feeding him with Creole seasoning mixed with water. “This case boils down to a woman who tortured a child, making him sleep on rough plywood, burning sheets, becoming so enraged she forced him to have 23 teaspoons of hot pepper and then watching him die in agony for two-and-a-half hours,” Sandra Eastwood, the lead prosecutor in the trial, told ABC News in 2012. Defence attorneys failed to use testimony from Dr Michael Moritz, a Pittsburgh-based leading expert on salt intoxication. According to court documents they felt that repeated objections from the prosecution cut into his analysis too obtrusively and would have been too difficult to edit in a way that would have been easy for the jury to follow.
However, much of Moritz’s deposition directly refuted the case for murder, including his conclusion that Overton did not poison Andrew, who most likely ate something by himself which caused his illness. Trial testimony suggested the child was a compulsive eater who may have had an undiagnosed eating disorder and would scavenge around for food and put almost anything in his mouth.........Remanding the case for re-trial after seven of nine judges ruled in favour, they wrote in their opinionon Wednesday: “We believe that Dr Moritz’s credibility combined with his testimony would have had a strong impact on the jury and sufficiently undermines the outcome of the trial. But for the defense team’s failure to present Dr Moritz’s testimony to the jury in some way, there is a reasonable probability that the outcome of appellant’s trial would have been different.” They did not address another claim by the defence, who allege that the prosecution withheld evidence that might have helped clear Overton, including test results indicating low stomach sodium levels, which cast doubt on the timing of when the child ingested the lethal quantity of salt, and may show that his foster mother could have done nothing to save him. “Much of this information was hidden from the lawyers and it was through very tenacious inquiry and persistence that I was able to tease out each piece of information. Even when I finally had it all I couldn’t make sense of it until we put it all together, and examined it from all the different sources, and we finally figured out what happened here. All the lawyers were misled,” said Orr."

See excellent analysis in Grits for Breakfast post: "The DA may want a second bite at the apple but thanks to developments described well in the Texas Monthly story (a key state witness switched sides), it seems increasingly unlikely that will happen." (Links to the Texas Monthly story and other coverage provided).


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