A Critical Look at a Key Witness

Photo by Cheryl Havared Harrell

Photo by Cheryl Havard Harrell

The case of Jeffrey Havard in Mississippi could be the tip of a wrongful-conviction iceberg, according to an excellent in-depth report by Radley Balko at the Huffington Post.

Havard has been on death row since 2002, convicted of murdering the 6-month-old daughter of his girl friend. Havard said he was lifting the little girl from the tub after a bath when she slipped from his hands, hitting her head on the toilet as she fell. Private medical examiner Dr. Steven Hayne, however, concluded the girl had died of shaken baby syndrome. The Mississippi Innocence Project has been fighting the conviction.

The reporter calls SBS “a diagnosis that comes with the implication that the last person to be alone with the child was the one who killed her,” observing:

“Because the symptoms can only be produced by violent shaking, the diagnosis also comes with a built-in indictment of the suspect’s state of mind. It’s a diagnosis that does much of the prosecutor’s work for him.”

Balko has written about Hayne several times over the past decade, as the medical examiner has become more controversial. Hayne has apparently been the favorite pathologist of Mississippi prosecutors for years, reliably providing autopsy reports and testimony that work in the courtroom. New information about Hayne is now available—ironically, through the discovery phase of a defamation suit Hayne pressed against the Missippi Innocence Project after they started questioning his work. Balko writes:

“What they’ve found since implicates not only Hayne, but a host of police officials, prosecutors, even judges who knew Hayne was deficient and offering dubious testimony, but did nothing to stop it. ‘We’ve known for a while that there was a problem here,’ says Tucker Carrington, the director of the project. ‘But I really had no concept of the depth and breadth of the malfeasance. This isn’t just Hayne. It’s … well, it’s almost everybody. The state has known all along that it was pulling the wool over everyone’s eyes.'”

According to Balko, Hayne was already under a serious cloud at the time of Havard’s trial, yet the court refused Havard the money to pay for a second opinion. The story is astonishing, and I recommend reading it:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/radley-balko/steven-hayne-jeffrey-havard_b_2213976.html


Filed under abusive head trauma, AHT, Innocence Project, SBS, shaken baby syndrome

2 responses to “A Critical Look at a Key Witness

  1. janeen

    Wow, Sue. Shades of Dr Smith from Canada. Gracias.

  2. The sad thing about this case is that there are states like Texas that don’t even have certification for their Medical Examiners. Given how important the testimony and opinion of an M.E. ends up being after a suspicious death, I’m stunned that it’s 2012 and so many states don’t require certification for a forensic examiner.

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