STORY: "I Served 7 Years in Prison for Murdering My Son — but I Didn't Do It," by Kate Storey, published by 'Good Housekeeping' on December 01, 2016.
SUB-HEADING: "In 2007, Hannah Overton was accused of salt poisoning of her 4-year-old foster son. What unfolded afterward still haunts those involved with the case."
GIST: "So, on Oct. 2, 2006, when Hannah made lunch for Andrew — a chili-like dish of bean soup with Creole seasoning — she wasn't surprised when he insisted on a second bowl. After that helping, he begged for another. Worried that so much food would make him sick, Hannah says she sprinkled some of the seasoning into water in Andrew's sippy cup, hoping the broth would give him the taste of the soup without filling him up too much. It was after that lunch when Andrew began vomiting and complaining of feeling ill. His symptoms — vomiting and chills — seemed in line with a stomach bug. When driving him to the urgent care facility, Hannah never considered that what she'd fed Andrew could be the cause of his illness. But he was diagnosed with hypernatremia, also known as salt poisoning. They didn't know it at the time but, because of the hypernatremia, Andrew's body was also covered in bruises when he arrived at the hospital, which led the authorities to believe the boy had been abused. Down at the police station, Hannah, who describes herself as "totally naïve about the criminal justice system at that point," having never gotten into any legal trouble, didn't think to demand a lawyer before she was questioned by detectives. The interrogation tapes, obtained by Investigation Discovery as they were working on a documentary about the case, show her hunched over, rushing through questions, while repeatedly asking when she could return to the hospital to see Andrew. Detective Michael Hess showed particular interest in Hannah giving the boy seasoning in his water. "Have you ever done anything like this to any of your other children ... water with chili in it?" Hess asked in the tapes. "No, I was just trying to ... you know," Hannah explained, "get him happy, get him to calm down." "With chili?" he asked, to which she replied, "Because he wanted more of that chili." After spending hours with Hannah, Hess moved on to her husband, Larry. "When he began questioning me," Larry says in the documentary, "I knew that he had his mind made up, that my wife had done something to Andrew."........Because of the investigation, the other four Overton children were taken away by Child Protective Services to live with two separate foster families. After one night, Hannah's mother was able to secure temporary custody. And when Hannah was out on bail, awaiting trial, she gave birth to her youngest daughter, Emma, in January 2007. She was allowed to spend three days with her in the hospital and then CPS took Emma away too. "Her birth was a bright spot in all of this. We gave her the middle name 'Blessing,' because she really is such a blessing," Hannah says. She was convinced that once the police looked further into it, they'd realize she had nothing to do with Andrew's death and that her family would be able to grieve the loss of Andrew together. Weeks later, Hannah and Larry noticed red and blue cop car lights flashing behind them. When they pulled over, they were approached by officers with their guns drawn and who ordered the couple to the ground to handcuff them. A row of TV reporters were there with their cameras to capture the entire thing. At that moment, Hannah realized for the first time how dire the situation was — and she was terrified. The Overtons were charged with capital murder, for which the only punishments in Texas are the death penalty or life in prison without parole. The media attention surrounding the case was crushing. Hannah was portrayed as a cold, calculating, abusive mother. Pamela Colloff, the Texas Monthly reporter covering the Overtons' story, noted online commenters were ruthless in their criticism, one writing, "You can just tell by looking at her how evil she is." Prosecutor Sandra Eastwood painted a picture of a desperate, overwhelmed woman who held down her foster son by the throat and forced him to drink a fatal concoction. "Andrew had an enraged mother who didn't, I don't think loved him the way that she loved her own biological children," Eastwood said at trial, according to an ABC News report. "The case boils down to a woman who basically tortured a child … becoming so enraged she forced him to have 23 teaspoons of hot pepper, and then watched him die in agony." (The number 23 comes from an estimate from a doctor who testified that it was the amount — equivalent to 6 teaspoons of salt — that would be fatal to a 4-year-old.) "Hearing those things at the trial was just sickening," Hannah says, her voice cracking. "Even thinking about it today, my stomach is in knots right now." To make matters worse for Hannah, at the trial's close, the jury was told they could charge her with capital murder by omission, meaning they could find her guilty if she had negligently failed to save Andrew's life by not getting him to the hospital in time — an extremely rare standard for murder. In September 2007, after a three-week trial and 11 hours of deliberation, the jury came back with a guilty verdict. When polled afterward, all 12 jurors said they didn't think Hannah intentionally poisoned her son but that she hadn't done enough to help him fast enough.........Hannah's lawyers couldn't let her case go either: "I had some friends who are great criminal defense lawyers down in Corpus Christi — they're tough guys. One day, they called me together on a conference call and they were crying," says Cynthia Orr, a San Antonio, Texas, attorney specializing in wrongful convictions. "They said they had just tried Hannah's case and that she was nursing her baby, and her baby was taken from her arms and she was sent to serve life in prison without parole. Would I please come help, because she's innocent?" Orr took the case. Hannah's new legal team realized a few holes in the case which could be key to getting her an appeal. For starters, Dr. Edgar Cortes, who'd observed Andrew before his death, never took the stand because, Orr says, the state made him unavailable to the defense. He could've provided an important perspective, since Andrew was described during the trial as a normal, healthy child. Cortes, however, knew of Andrew's behavioral issues. Second, Andrew's vomit hadn't been tested, according to the documentary, because the state had lied to the defense, saying it wasn't available, when, in fact, it was. (Eastwood, the prosecutor who tried the case against Hannah, did not respond to requests for comment from GoodHousekeeping.com.) When the vomit was tested, it showed low sodium — proving that the lethal portion of salt must have been ingested earlier in the day. Hannah explained to her lawyers that she recalled Andrew earlier in the day sneaking into a kitchen cabinet but didn't recall what he had in his hand when she found him. Finally, the testimony from Dr. Michael Moritz, an expert on salt poisoning, wasn't shown during trial because the defense was told his video-recorded interview was of such poor quality that it wasn't worth showing to the jury. But when Orr and her team reviewed it, they discovered it contained valuable facts about Andrew's condition, like the fact that it takes at least an hour for a child to exhibit symptoms — thus proving that the Overtons reacted in a timely manner. Thanks to the new evidence, Hannah finally got a new trial Dec. 16, 2014. They were successful. After seven years locked away from her family, Hannah was released on bail just in time for Christmas. And her family was there to embrace her as she walked out of prison. Her husband and older two children threw their arms around her first, then, tears streaming down her face, she made her way to the younger two, who'd spent the majority of their lives interacting with their mom during prison visitation hours. Now, nearly as tall as their mom, they broke into shy smiles as they embraced her......... Hannah is also the subject of the documentary Until Proven Innocent: The Hannah Overton Story, airing Dec. 1 at 9 p.m. on Investigation Discovery. It traces the mystery of her son's death, the agonizing investigation that tore her family apart and landed her behind bars, and her eventual release seven years later."
The entire article can be found at:
PUBLISHER'S NOTE: I am monitoring this case/issue. Keep your eye on the Charles Smith Blog for reports on developments. The Toronto Star, my previous employer for more than twenty incredible years, has put considerable effort into exposing the harm caused by Dr. Charles Smith and his protectors - and into pushing for reform of Ontario's forensic pediatric pathology system. The Star has a "topic" section which focuses on recent stories related to Dr. Charles Smith. It can be found at: http://www.thestar.com/topic/