SUB-HEADING: "Jeffrey Havard was on Mississippi's death row for nearly 16 years. So why would he appeal, when it could send him back to death row?

GIST: "Jeffrey Havard became angry when he was removed from Mississippi’s death row in September, nearly 16 years after he entered. His initial reaction to the court tossing out his death sentence was “worse than doing nothing at all,” Havard said in an interview inside the Adams County Jail. “I would rather die, taking my chances on death row and go down being executed, fighting for my innocence, than to just be thrown into prison, life without parole, and waste away.” His lawyers plan to appeal the judge’s decision to the state Supreme Court, opening the door for justices to reimpose the death penalty. So why would anyone risk that? “All I want to do is to be able to tell the jury my story,” Havard said. “I haven’t gotten a chance to do that.” She noticed that Chloe wasn't breathing: It was the night of Feb. 21, 2002, and 6-month-old Chloe Madison Britt was crying. Her mother, Rebecca, was gone, buying something from the store. Havard said he thought Chloe had soiled her diaper, discovering instead she had spit up. He decided to give her a bath, and after she was done, he pulled her out. As he reached for a towel, she was wiggling and fell from his grasp, hitting the toilet, he said. He returned her to his arms, gave her a little shake and spoke to her, he said. “Chloe, are you OK?” She started crying, he said. “I held her in my arms and made sure she was OK. I dried her off, and she quit crying. I thought she was OK.” Chloe Madison Britt, 6 months old, died on Feb. 21, 2002. (Photo: Clarion Ledger) When Rebecca returned minutes later, she checked on Chloe, he said. “That eased my mind, and I didn’t say anything.” He said he gave Rebecca money to rent a movie for them to watch. When she returned, she noticed that Chloe wasn’t breathing and began to scream, starting CPR on her daughter. Havard, who was in the bathroom, said Rebecca yelled out for him to go to his grandparents down the road. He said he replied, “No, let’s get in the car and go to the hospital.” At Natchez Community Hospital’s emergency room, medical personnel scrambled to revive Chloe, who wasn’t breathing and had no pulse. At 10:04 p.m., they got their first ray of hope. Chloe’s blue skin began to turn pink. They could see bruises on her forehead and the front of her thighs. A nurse removed her diaper to take her temperature and said, "Look at this." They noticed the baby's rectum was dilated and called police. Not long after, they lost her pulse. Her face swelled; so did her brain. By 10:50 p.m., doctors declared her dead. 'You're going to be executed for this'; By the time that declaration took place, Havard was already in the back of a squad car. At about 3 a.m., deputies led him from the jail to the interrogation room. It was here, for the first time, that he learned Chloe was dead. “And before I can even react, (the deputy) said, ‘And she’s been raped,’” he recalled. The news stunned Havard. “Son,” he said the deputy told him, “she’s been ripped from end to end. You tell us right f---ing now what you did to her, and maybe that will keep the needle out of your arm up there in Parchman. You’re going to be executed for this.” The words shocked Havard. “That scared the hell out of me,” he recalled. “I was scared to say I dropped her at that point.” The next day, a hospital conducted a DNA test on him, hoping to link him to the sexual assault. When he returned to the jail, authorities handed him with papers that explained his arrest. He said his head spun as he read the words, accusing him of sexual battery and shaking Chloe to death. Authorities continue to say Jeffrey Havard is guilty of a heinous homicide, but he maintains he accidentally dropped 6-month-old Chloe Madison Britt.  When he saw the words “subdural hemorrhage,” he said he realized that accidentally dropping her on the head may have caused her death. He shared his story with deputies, who pressed him repeatedly on the allegations of rape. He said he wanted to be helpful and tried to think of what might explain this, but they continued to believe he had sexually assaulted Chloe. “It was the perfect storm,” he recalled. “It still is.”'Absolute low point of evil and human depravity': In December 2002, Havard went on trial for capital murder. A parade of witnesses — doctors, nurses, the sheriff and others — described an anal dilation the size of a quarter, along with tears, rips, lacerations and bleeding they said they saw in the child’s anal area. Then-state pathologist Dr. Steven Hayne told jurors that Havard had shaken the baby to death, comparing the injuries to those seen in car crashes and falls from significant heights. No defense experts testified because Judge Johnson wouldn’t permit their hiring. He told defense lawyers they could question Hayne about the death. They didn’t bother. Jurors never heard from Havard, either, because his court-appointed lawyers advised him not to testify. After 40 minutes of deliberation, jurors convicted Havard, who professed his innocence when he was sentenced, and recommended the death penalty. Circuit Judge Forrest Johnson told him, “Just when you think that you have seen everything and that you have seen or heard of the absolute low point of evil and human depravity, someone like you comes along and shows us a new low in human behavior." Havard received a sentence of death by lethal injection. "Scientists discredit shaken baby syndrome: In the years that followed the trial, scientists have discredited shaken baby syndrome. In 2001, Minnesota pathologist Dr. John Plunkett conducted a groundbreaking study, examining Consumer Product Safety Commission reports involving falls from playground equipment. He concluded short-distance falls are capable of producing the triad of symptoms previously identified as shaken baby syndrome. "It's clear that low velocity, even a 2- or 3-foot fall can cause serious and fatal brain injury," he told The Clarion-Ledger. "If people had paid attention to the science, it would not have been a mystery." The Clarion Ledger questioned Hayne about the changing science. He backed off his shaken baby conclusion, acknowledging the injuries could have come from a short fall. He cited a 1979 study measuring the falls of children. "You can generate tremendous G forces in a short distance when you hit a very hard surface," he said. Sexual assault was the underlying felony charge against Havard that enabled authorities to pursue the death penalty against him. Authorities believed sexual assault because of the anal dilation, but a 1996 study found anal dilation was common among children who died, especially those who suffered brain damage. Hayne told the Clarion Ledger that he informed prosecutors he didn’t see any evidence of sexual assault. A rape kit found no semen or foreign DNA, and he examined those sections under a microscope. His conclusion? There were no tears, rips or similar injuries to the child’s rectum, he said. “I would think that would be a definitive evaluation.” In 2015, the state Supreme Court ordered a new hearing for Havard, citing the shifting science on shaken baby syndrome, but justices wouldn’t allow the judge to consider evidence that no sexual assault took place. Havard vows to keep fighting: 'The truth is the truth'" At that August 2017 hearing, Hayne and four other experts concluded that Chloe did not die of shaken baby syndrome.
Hayne and another prosecution expert still believed her death was a homicide. Renowned pathologist Dr. Michael Baden of New York City disputed that conclusion, saying the baby’s injuries were consistent with the fall Havard described. “With short falls,” he said, “you can have fatal injuries.” After three days of testimony and hundreds of pages of briefs, Judge Johnson wrote an order that took up less than five pages. Despite the new evidence on shaken baby syndrome, Johnson concluded that Havard was just as guilty, citing the testimony of Hayne and Dr. Scott Benton, chief of the division of forensic medicine at the University of Mississippi’s Medical Center. But the judge tossed out the death sentence, concluding that while the evidence was “not sufficient to undermine this Court’s confidence in the conviction, there is a cautious disturbance in confidence of the sentence of death, even if slight.” That conclusion baffled Havard. “If I’m just as guilty as I was before, what disturbs my death sentence?” he asked. And if there is indeed doubt, he asked, wouldn’t that affect his conviction? His resentencing is set for Nov. 19, where he is expected to receive a life without parole sentence. (District Attorney Ronnie Harper told the judge that his office won't seek the death penalty.) Havard's appeal of the judge's order, however, opens the door for him to possibly receive the death penalty. For 16 years now, he said he has felt like he was underwater. Since 2012, he feels he has been rising up in that water, more and more evidence reflecting his innocence, he said. “Now I’m within an inch or two of the surface.” But instead of breaking through, the judge’s order has blocked his way, he said. He vows to keep fighting. “If it takes a week, if it takes 10 months, if it takes 10 years, the truth is the truth,” he said. “I want the truth to come out.”"

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: Information on "The Charles Smith Blog Award"- and its nomination process - can be found at: Please send any comments or information on other cases and issues of interest to the readers of this blog to:  Harold Levy: Publisher; The Charles Smith Blog;  

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