Thursday, April 9, 2015

Hannah Overton: Texas; Momentous development: Convicted and sentenced to life in prison in connection with death of 4-year-old son; Prosecutors argued she force-fed Andrew a spicy seasoning and delayed seeking medical help for him. defence maintained Andrew’s death was accidental and that the boy, who they said had bizarre eating habits, self-ingested salt the day he fell ill. Prosecutors have filed a motion to dismiss the charge.

STORY: "Hannah Overton's capital murder case dismissed," by reporter Krista M. Torralva, published by the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, on April 8, 2015.

GIST: "Hannah Overton’s lawyer was met with silence on the other end of the phone when she delivered the news they had long awaited. District Attorney Mark Skurka filed a motion Wednesday to dismiss the capital murder charge against her. It was signed by Judge Mario Ramirez. “That means we’re done. The case is over,” San Antonio-based lawyer Cynthia Orr said......... Overton and her husband, Larry, were adopting 4-year-old Andrew Burd when he died Oct. 3, 2006 of sodium poisoning. Police and medical staff questioned scratches on the boy and Overton was questioned at the police department while Andrew died at a hospital. Soon after Andrew’s death, Hannah and Larry Overton were charged with capital murder. At Hannah Overton’s trial, prosecutors argued she force-fed Andrew a spicy seasoning and delayed seeking medical help for him. Overton was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. After his wife’s trial, Larry Overton pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide in exchange for a type of probation that allowed him to avoid a conviction. Both have maintained Andrew’s death was accidental and that the boy, who they said had bizarre eating habits, self-ingested salt the day he fell ill. Last year, the state’s Court of Criminal Appeals overturned Overton’s conviction and found that her attorneys provided ineffective counsel by failing to call Dr. Michael Moritz, a salt poisoning expert, to testify on her behalf.
 The entire story can be found at:

See Pamela Colloff's Texas Monthly story on the dismissal: "A Corpus Christi homemaker and mother of five, Hannah was convicted of capital murder in 2007 for the death of Andrew, whom she and her husband had been in the process of adopting. The four-year-old died on October 3, 2006, in a rare and mystifying case of salt poisoning, which prosecutors said resulted from Hannah force-feeding him salt as punishment for bad behavior. Yet multiple inconsistencies and errors plagued the state’s case. Evidence strongly suggested Andrew had an undiagnosed eating disorder called “pica,” which is characterized by a desire to consume non-food items and inappropriate substances, like salt. Analysis of the contents of Andrew’s stomach, which was not presented at trial, indicated Andrew likely ingested too much salt on his own earlier in the day that he fell ill. Prosecutors had never been able to establish a plausible motive for why Hannah—who had no criminal record or history of violence—would murder a child. Nor had they been able to show how Hannah, who had been six months pregnant and suffering from whiplash at the time of Andrew’s death, had been able to force the boy to consume a lethal 23 teaspoons of salt, as the prosecution suggested. In September 2014, her conviction was overturned by the Court of Criminal Appeals. Though Hannah was released from prison in December and reunited with her children, the battle appeared to have just begun. Skurka vowed to retry Hannah on capital murder charges, and had his prosecutors begin to prepare for trial. “No jury, no trial judge, and no appellate court has ever found that defendant Hannah Overton is not responsible for the death of Andrew Burd,” he told reporters. Ever since then, Orr has put in long hours working to show the DA’s office that it no longer had a case. In multiple conversations in person and by phone with Skurka and his prosecutors over the past few months, Orr walked them through the complex scientific evidence in the case, explaining how their assumptions had been obliterated during a six-day evidentiary hearing held in 2012. She also showed how many of their witnesses would be willing to testify for the defense if there were to be a retrial. Most significant among them was the state’s star witness, Dr. Alexandre Rotta, who had treated Andrew on the night he was brought to the hospital in 2006 in a coma. Orr revealed that Rotta had recently contacted Hannah’s attorneys to say that her conviction still kept him up at night. Orr showed that he, as well as  other key witnesses, could no longer be counted on to uphold the state’s case. Orr’s diligence paid off. In a statement released late this afternoon, Skurka explained: “As district attorney, I recognize the charges against Mrs. Overton are very serious. Therefore, since the reversal by the Court of Criminal Appeals based on mistakes made by her defense counsel during her first trial, our office has diligently reviewed the facts and circumstances of the case. This decision was a result of a myriad of factors which came about after a careful review of the previous trial, re-interviewing some of the key witnesses, consulting with some of the medical experts involved in the case, reviewing evidence adduced at recent hearings, and staffing the case with the current prosecutors assigned to the case. After this review, I exercised prosecutor discretion in dismissing the case.” When I reached Orr last night, she had nothing but praise for Skurka, who was not the DA when Hannah was prosecuted in 2007. “He’s done the right thing, not the easy thing,” she said. “This is Mr. Skurka acting in the best tradition of his profession—pursing justice, not convictions.”"

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