Tasha Shelby, 47, has spent a quarter of a century (more than half of her life) in prison for a murder that the original coroner in the case said never happened. May 30, 1997 Two and a half year old Bryan Thompson was found by his stepmother Shelby early in the morning of , convulsed and gasping for breath and taken to hospital. The child was put on life support, but was declared brain dead and died the next day.
Doctors soon “diagnosed” Brian, known as “Little” to his family, as suffering from Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS). As the last adult to care for him, Shelby was quickly assumed to be the perpetrator. To medical professionals and the police, it was a simple case of cranial trauma. He was sentenced to death by a court and sentenced to life imprisonment without parole.
Dr. Leroy Riddick, who died in 2021, performed Brian’s autopsy and was the state’s forensic pathologist in the case. was changed from “homicide” to “accident” due to a genetic disease. He also said in an affidavit in 2016 that, given the advances in medical understanding, Bryan’s injuries were likely the result of a combination of factors, including falls from short distances and seizures. I testified.
Despite this, Shelby spends the rest of his life in prison, relying on the love of his family to stay strong. “I am completely dependent on people, both emotionally and mentally, to believe that this will work,” she told me.
Her paternal aunt, Penny Warner, has been a strong supporter of her niece’s release. said Warner. “My heart aches. It is unfathomable to me that she is sitting in prison for a crime that never happened. The state of Mississippi needs to right this wrong.”
To do. But in August, the US government objected to an Amicus brief in favor of Shelby put forward by a group of SBS waivers. Among them was Sabrina her butler, who was sentenced to death by the same Mississippi legal system after the death of her nine-month-old son in 1989. After her son’s medical records revealed a rare genetic condition that inaccurately emulated symptoms attributed to SBS.
“Tasha is innocent,” said Shelby’s attorney Varena Beatty, a law professor at Arizona State University and deputy director of the Judiciary Academy. was a horrific mistake by the system and it’s time to end this tragedy.”
But Shelby’s case also raises more fundamental questions at the intersection of law and medicine. The theory of SBS is based on a presentation of symptoms known as the “triad” of blood clots in the brain, hemorrhages in the retinal vessels, and swelling of the brain. For those who still believe in SBS, when an infant suffers from these symptoms, the last adult to care for the child is automatically assumed to have caused those injuries.
In fact, SBS is not a medical diagnosis. Instead, the doctor is put in the position to state that the individual committed the crime based on scant evidence.
Tasha’s case could have been made worse by Mississippi’s mandatory reporting laws exempting all responsibility from medical professionals who report child injuries as abuse. Did you miss the possibility of
Riddick isn’t the only one to reconsider. Before his death in 2019, Dr. Norman Guthkelch, the pediatric neurosurgeon who put forward his SBS hypothesis 50 years ago, questioned his use of the theory in criminal cases. When asked by his defense team to investigate the case in which his father was sentenced to death for shaking his son to death, he concluded: As in Shelby’s case, in this case, experts ignored his seizure history.
Several years after Shelby’s conviction, the science behind Gusquerch’s original theory has moved forward. In a 2017 report published in Forensic Science Reform, experts shared the following findings: The survey discredited each of SBS’s indicators. They urged the legal community to “pay attention to current science to ensure fair trials and fair verdicts.”
3DC, a non-profit organization founded by human rights attorney Clive Stafford-Smith, has published a preliminary study assessing 94 SBS cases that have come to light in the UK in January 2022. “We found that the evidence presented in court came from a very small group of executives who were ardent supporters of the theory, abandoning the notion that scientific analysis should be transparent,” Stafford-Smith said. Stated.
Two British 3DC legal apprentices who worked on that report, Emily Garvan Dutton and Astrid Pallett, traveled to Mississippi to join Shelby and others in their fight for justice. “Sadly, Tasha’s case is nothing special,” Emily said. “Innocent parents and caregivers around the world are in jail because of this junk science.”
As she waits for the court to consider her case, Shelby continues to ponder the future beyond the boundaries of Pearl’s Central Mississippi Correctional Facility. “I want to be what everyone in my life has done for me. I want to pay it forward.”
Her future, and that of others who, based on SBS’ allegations, are facing lengthy prison sentences and even the death penalty, will continue to grow as states like Mississippi review the science and focus on intentional harm. It depends on revisiting the processes that lead to automatic assumptions.
The legal, scientific and medical communities need to improve their knowledge of scientific developments and take a more open approach to those who challenge the dogmas of the SBS hypothesis. Finally, there should be a complete and transparent assessment of the credibility of convictions under SBS. This ensures that the tragedy of a child’s death is not compounded by the wrongful conviction of the person who last cared for the child.
For now, Shelby marvels at her own resilience while dealing with life in prison.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial attitude of Al Jazeera.