In October of 2015, a young man, David (not real name), was convicted of First Degree Murder and Child Abuse in connection with the death of an infant who was temporarily in the custody of his girlfriend. David had no criminal record. He loved children. His girlfriend had two children from former boyfriends. Those children’s therapist stated that David was more supportive of those children than many biological fathers. He also adored the infant who tragically died.
David was innocent of the infant’s tragic death. The State argued at trial that the infant had died of “shaken baby syndrome” and that David was responsible. Despite his innocence, David was convicted at trial and sentenced to life in prison. His convictions were affirmed on appeal. Because he had been convicted of First Degree Murder, he spent the first four years of his sentence in the Department of Corrections – Special Management Unit (SMU). This is sometimes known as “Super Max.” He was essentially held in isolation. His four years in Super Max were an unbelievable nightmare.
In 2017, David’s family retained my office, asking us to try to fix this terrible injustice. There is an overwhelming tendency of the courts to not overturn convictions due to ineffective assistance of trial counsel. Despite what we knew was going to be an uphill battle, we could not let this injustice go unchallenged, and filed a petition for post-conviction relief on David’s behalf. We argued that David’s trial had been so botched that he had been denied the effective assistance of counsel. For two years, we poured through the file in David’s case, including the complex medical testimony, with a fine-tooth comb. We located critical evidence that established that David had nothing to do with the infant’s death. We located expert witnesses who were prepared to testify to that fact. We identified numerous errors in the trial in David’s case, including denials of his constitutional rights, that were never effectively litigated.
Shortly before the petition was to come on for an evidentiary hearing, we were able to re-interview the State’s pathologist. The State’s pathologist agreed that the cause of the infant’s death was not “shaken baby syndrome,” the State’s theory at trial. On the eve of the evidentiary hearing in connection with our petition for post-conviction relief, the State agreed to convert David’s sentence to one that permitted a sentence of time served.
David was released from prison. This year, 2020, for the first time in over four years, David will be able to spend Christmas with his family. My office was thrilled to receive a bouquet of flowers from David’s family and their note of gratitude.
It’s why we do what we do.