There is a good reason why the accused must be presumed innocent until proven guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.” In any criminal case where hard evidence is in short supply, there could be a number of narratives constructed to explain the information that is known. But just because an alleged crime could have occurred in a certain way, this alone is not a reason to conclude that it did.
The Wisconsin chapter of the Innocence Project is currently preparing to appeal the 2009 conviction of a Wisconsin woman currently serving 13 years in prison. After a 4-month-old baby died while in her care in 2007, she was accused of causing the baby’s death through abusive head trauma, which is more commonly known as “shaken baby syndrome.”
The baby had no external signs of abuse and no neck injury. But a fracture to the boy’s left leg was seemingly enough evidence for prosecutors to become convinced that he had died of shaken baby syndrome.
Medical experts who have since reviewed the evidence have offered a number of alternative theories involving natural or accidental causes to explain the boy’s death. These seem equally if not more plausible than abusive head trauma.
Several experts have said that the leg fracture could have occurred shortly before the infant’s death or shortly after. It may not be possible to know the exact timing of the fracture, but this at least raises reasonable doubts about abuse.
Alternative theories about the boy’s cause of death include a blood clot, a heart virus, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) or an injury suffered during birth that might not have manifested until several months later.
To be sure, abusive head trauma is not out of the realm of possibilities. But considering that several competing theories offer equally compelling explanations for the boy’s death, it cannot be said that the defendant’s guilt was proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Hopefully, the case will be granted the appeal it deserves.
Source: Marshfield News Herald, “Experts recant in shaken-baby case,” Dee Hall, May 20, 2014