Jeff Havard was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death in 2002 by the State of Mississippi for shaking his girlfriend’s infant daughter Chloe Britt to death in the process of a sexual assault. The accusation of sexual assault has been thoroughly reviewed, and it is now very clear that a sexual assault never occurred. In fact, there are currently no experts that support that claim.
This article focuses on the accusation of shaken baby syndrome (SBS). The prosecution’s expert, Dr. Steven Hayne, testified that the cause of death of the infant was consistent with SBS. Hayne has now changed his mind based on new scientific evidence. Hayne was the only expert to testify in this case.
Jeff has always maintained that the infant slipped from his arms while lifting her from the tub, causing her head to hit the toilet. New expert evidence supports Jeff’s claims.
New scientific evidence has come to light in recent years challenging the validity of SBS, calling into question thousands of convictions that may have been secured on flawed science.
The Audrey Edmunds case in Wisconsin highlighted how errors can occur when diagnosing SBS. Audrey Edmunds was wrongfully convicted in 1996 of reckless homicide for the shaking death of Natalie Beard, a 7-month-old infant she was watching while doing home daycare. Audrey was sentenced to 18 years in prison.
In 2006 the Wisconsin Innocence Project, took on Audrey’s case. New scientific evidence was emerging that was not available at the time of Audrey’s trial that supported her innocence.
In January of 2008, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals ruled that “a shift in mainstream medical opinion” had cast doubt on whether shaking could have caused the brain injury that caused Natalie Beard’s death, leading the court to order a new trial. The District Attorney’s office dropped the case, freeing Audrey after serving 11 years in prison for a crime she did not commit.
Expert Opinion In Jeff Havard’s Case
Prosecution Expert, Dr. Steven Hayne
Dr. Hayne executed an Afﬁdavit on July 22, 2013. With respect to Shaken Baby Syndrome, Hayne stated: “At trial, I testiﬁed that the cause of death of Chloe Britt was consistent with Shaken Baby Syndrome. Recent advances in the ﬁeld of biomechanics demonstrate that shaking alone could not produce enough force to produce the injuries that caused the death of Chloe Britt. The current state of the art would classify those injuries as shaken baby syndrome with impact or blunt force trauma.” These statements were made with a reasonable degree of medical certainty. View the Affidavit of Dr. Steven Hayne
Dr. Michael Baden
Dr. Michael Baden is a physician and board-certified forensic pathologist. Dr. Baden is the former Chief Medical Examiner of New York City and is currently the chief forensic pathologist for the New York State Police. Dr. Baden is well respected worldwide for his work in this field.
At The Clarion-Ledger’s request, Dr. Baden agreed to review the evidence in the Jeffrey Havard case. Baden disagreed with the finding of shaken baby syndrome. Baden stated: “There is no autopsy or scientific evidence to support a diagnosis that Chloe died of shaken baby syndrome.” View the Affidavit of Dr. Michael M. Baden
Dr. George Nichols
Dr. George Nichols is a forensic pathologist with over twenty year’s experience as Kentucky’s Chief Medical Examiner, as well as being an instructor of pathology at the University of Louisville Medical School the past twenty-three years. According to Dr. Nichols, Chloe Britt’s death is entirely consistent with a short fall, and not an abusive shaking. View the Affidavit of Dr. George Nichols
Dr. Janice Ophoven
There was no evidence to support a finding of shaking in this case; instead, the evidence is of impact. There may also have been contributing factors, including illness. A complete review of the autopsy slides and photographs is required in order to reach more definitive conclusions.”
Dr. Ophoven stresses the need for a review, stating: “I am very concerned that this case represents a serious miscarriage of justice, particularly given the capital nature of the case, and an urgent remedy and review of the evidence is required. I would personally agree to participate in such an investigation on a pro bono basis until a proper analysis, including review of the autopsy slides and complete set of autopsy photographs, has been completed.” View the Affidavit of Dr. Janice Ophoven
Dr. Chris Van Ee
Dr. Chris Van Ee holds a Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering from Duke University and is a licensed Professional Engineer. Dr. Van Ee has specific expertise in the analysis and risk assessment of head injury in the infant and adult populations.
Dr. Van Ee concludes that a short fall should not be dismissed as a cause of the injuries detailed in the autopsy. He writes: “Based on the current data on short distance falls and head injury mechanics and the information provided to me for this case, it would be biomechanically incorrect to dismiss the history of fall as a causal factor resulting in the findings described at autopsy. Shaking is a less likely explanation for these findings.” View the Affidavit of Dr. Chris Van Ee
Additional SBS Resources
Challenges to ‘shaken baby’ convictions mounting
In January, a federal judge in Chicago issued a stunning ruling: Shaken baby syndrome as a cause of death has little to no scientific basis. Continue reading →
Acquittal in California SBS Case
Quentin Stone was found not guilty of inflicting abusive head trauma (the current “official” term for SBS) on his infant son, who, days before, had accidentally fallen off the bed. Continue reading →
Shaking Up “Shaken Baby Syndrome”
Mareeg.com-OXFORD – The most tragic event that can befall new parents is the sudden, unexpected death of their baby. Perhaps the only thing worse is the parents being wrongly accused of causing the death, and indeed prosecuted, owing to the medical community’s misinterpretation of the findings. Continue reading →
Finally, a Judge Calls Shaken Baby Diagnosis an “Article of Faith”
Almost a decade into a 20-year prison sentence for murdering a baby in her care, 43-year-old Jennifer Del Prete was ordered freed on bond late last week. The ruling is one of a growing number that reflect skepticism on the part of judges, juries, and even prosecutors about criminal convictions based on the medical diagnosis of shaken baby syndrome. Continue reading →