Friday, April 3, 2015

Jeffrey Havard: Mississippi; Major development: Reporter Jerry Mitchell reports that changing science on shaken baby syndrome may give the death row inmate a new hearing:

STORY: Jeffrey Havard:  Changing science may give death row inmate new hearing," by reporter Jerry Mitchell, published by the Clarion Post on April 2, 2015.

GIST: "In a unanimous decision made public Thursday, the Mississippi Supreme Court granted death row inmate Jeffrey Havard permission to request an evidentiary hearing since science on shaken baby syndrome has changed.
At trial, the state's then-pathologist Dr. Steven Hayne testified that 6-month-old Chloe Britt died of "shaken baby syndrome." For decades, shaken baby syndrome was widely accepted, diagnosed through a triad of symptoms: subdural bleeding (blood collecting between the brain and the skull), retinal bleeding (bleeding in the back of the eye) and brain swelling. In the years since, medical belief that these symptoms provided ironclad proof of homicide has begun to crumble with several studies raising doubts. In 2009, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended the syndrome diagnosis be discarded and replaced with "abusive head trauma." At the request of The Clarion-Ledger, New York pathologist Dr. Michael Baden studied the autopsy report and other materials in the 2002 death of Britt. He found no evidence for sexual abuse or support for the shaken baby conclusion, pointing to a lack of neck or chest injuries or spine or rib fractures that suggest such abusive shaking. Hayne told The Clarion-Ledger there was "growing evidence" his shaken baby diagnosis was "probably not correct" because shaking alone isn't able to generate enough force to cause such injuries. Havard's lawyer, Graham Carner, said Thursday, "The science on shaken baby syndrome has changed dramatically since Jeffrey's trial in 2002. The state's expert recognizes this and has said that the … opinions the jury heard were probably not correct. We look forward to presenting the court with objective medical proof that Chloe's death was a tragic accident and not murder. At the very least, Jeffrey deserves a new trial so a jury can hear all of the evidence."
In a unanimous order signed by Justice Josiah Dennis Coleman, the high court gave Havard permission to seek a hearing in Adams County Circuit Court.
The hearing, however, may not include what Hayne now says about the alleged sexual abuse, the underlying felony, which qualified the case for the death penalty. "I didn't think there was a sexual assault," Hayne told The Clarion-Ledger. "I didn't see any evidence of sexual assault." Several emergency room nurses and doctors testified there was unquestionable evidence of sexual assault, saying they saw tears and rips in the child's anus. Hayne said these statements are contradicted by the autopsy he performed and that the anal contusion he did find could have been consistent with the child passing a harder stool. But jurors never heard that, and they convicted Havard of capital murder, sentencing him to death. At the time, Havard told authorities that he didn't abuse the baby and that he dropped her accidentally after getting her out of the bathtub. On appeal, Havard's lawyers accused the state of withholding evidence by failing to tell the defense prior to trial what Hayne had concluded. On Thursday, the high court rejected that argument and also found no merit in the claim that Havard's lawyers were ineffective for failing to interview Hayne prior to trial."

See Radley Balko's comments on the Supreme Court decision  - published by the Washington Post on 'The Watch': "As I’ve written here before, Hayne has since come under fire for his improbable testimony, sloppy practices and herculean workload. He was effectively fired as the state’s quasi-official medical examiner in 2008, although he still periodically testifies in civil cases, in old cases in which the defendant was given a new trial, and for defense attorneys. Hayne has since reversed part of his testimony in the Havard case, although as noted here at The Watch, he has still given highly suspect testimony in other SBS cases.The ruling this week doesn’t grant Havard a new trial, but it does give him permission to ask for an evidentiary hearing on the scientific legitimacy of the Shaken Baby Syndrome diagnosis. A favorable ruling in that hearing could then result in a new trial. Since Havard’s conviction, SBS has come under fire as new research has called its underlying premises into doubt. This ruling basically acknowledges as much. But the court rejected Havard’s claims related to Hayne’s credibility as an expert witness. While the court’s ruling on SBS is correct — and encouraging, given how difficult it can be to get appeals courts to revisit convictions based on science later shown to be flawed — focusing solely on the SBS ruling shows that the Mississippi Supreme Court still isn’t ready to acknowledge and account for the full extent of Hayne’s corruption of the state’s criminal justice system.


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