The Mississippi state Supreme Court has ordered that there should be a new trial for a convicted man whose trial had included a testimony for the Shaken Baby Syndrome which is now widely disputed.
For decades, Mississippi actually believed in the Shaken Baby Syndrome. It was supposed to be a genuine cause for death in infants, and it was diagnosed by three important symptoms. These symptoms were blood collection between the infant’s brain and skull, a condition known as subdural bleeding, retinal bleeding behind the infant’s eye, and brain swelling. As many as 11 Mississippians have been convicted of this crime since 2000 and two of them have been put on death row say criminal defense attorneys in the state.
The syndrome is probably not a valid cause of death
However, over the years the validity of the Shaken Baby Syndrome as a reason for child homicide has begun to be doubted and experts now concur that after repeated studies and research it can now no longer be proved inconclusively that a parent (or anybody for that matter) could kill a child by literally shaking them to death.
This week, Justices in the state Supreme Court concluded that the trial for LeeVester Brown should be reviewed again as the man was convicted using the Shaken Baby Syndrome testimony from Dr. Steven Hayne. LeeVester Brown had also asked for the state funds so he could hire an expert witness and have them review the autopsy that was conducted by Dr. Hayne. But he was denied that right, and in 2012 he was given a life without parole sentence.
Second case to be thrown out in recent times
Now, there is some hope for Brown again. His is the second case that the Mississippi Supreme Court has thrown out in recent times ever since the syndrome on which these trials were judged has been proved to have been based on shaky grounds.
The other person who gets a reprieve from a similar fate is Jeffrey Havard who was sentenced way back in 2002. His sentencing was also based on an expert testimony from Dr. Hayne who said that the dead child involved in the case―Chloe Britt who was 6 month old when she died―was killed by being shaken. But Dr. Hayne now says that he now seriously doubts the validity of the claims he had made then.
Case has put forensic science under the scanner
Havard’s criminal defense lawyer Graham Carner of Jackson said after the Supreme Court’s decision that the change in science shows how important it is for defendants to have expert witnesses in the box so that they can challenge scientific and medical testimonies.
The Shaken Baby Syndrome diagnosis was discarded by the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2009. It has been known for some time that shaking a baby alone cannot generate enough force to cause the kind of injuries that were used to diagnose the syndrome. The case has now become a trend nationwide putting forensics used to diagnose child deaths under the scanner.