'Shaken baby' murder conviction reinstated
Woman faces return to jail over death of grandson as Supreme Court overrules appeal
Shirley Ree Smith spent 10 years in prison before a panel of three appeals court judges set her free, finding she'd been wrongly convicted of shaking her newborn grandson, Etzel, to death in the bedroom of a relative's house north of Los Angeles.
That was in 2006. On Monday, Smith learned that – despite persistent, wide-ranging doubts about her guilt – she must return to jail some time before Christmas. In a controversial split decision, the US Supreme Court ruled that the judges who granted her appeal had overstepped their remit. "I didn't kill my grandson. I won't go back to prison. I can't do that," said Smith, when informed of the decision. "Why won't the Supreme Court realise juries make mistakes? They're human beings; they make mistakes."
There had been no physical evidence to support Smith's original murder conviction in 1997. Instead, the jury chose to believe prosecution experts, who surmised that Etzel had been killed by shaking, over doctors testifying for the defence, who said it was a classic example of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome [Sids].
A decade into her sentence, Smith was freed on appeal. The US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals announced she had suffered a "miscarriage of justice". The evidence against her was so flimsy that there was "no demonstrable support" for the prosecution's version of events, it said.
Then came Monday's decision. Reached by a 6-3 majority at the highest court in America, it revolves around a legal technicality: although the Supreme Court says doubts over Smith's guilt are "understandable", it also believes that appeal judges have no right to simply decide that a jury reached the wrong conclusion.
"It is not the job of this court, and was not that of the 9th Circuit, to decide whether the state's theory was correct," read the Supreme Court verdict. "The jury decided that question." Only fresh evidence, or evidence of misconduct at the original trial, can be used to overturn a conviction.
Smith's case is already a cause célèbre among campaigners who say misguided expert witnesses have contributed to a slew of wrongful "shaken baby" convictions.
The three Supreme Court justices who supported Smith say it is unlikely, given recent research into the sudden death of infants, that the prosecution witnesses would have testified so vigorously today. "What is now known about shaken baby syndrome casts grave doubt on the charge leveled against Smith; and uncontradicted evidence shows that she poses no danger whatever," they wrote.
Smith's only chance of avoiding jail now revolves around a newly filed clemency petition. But her own attorney, Michael J Brennan, says the chances of it being granted are "extremely slim".
- 1 Rarest Beanie Baby bought for just £10 at car boot sale could be sold for £62,500 on eBay
- 5 Cancel Sky at your peril: man spends 96 minutes in chat but fails to get rid of service
Rarest Beanie Baby bought for just £10 at car boot sale could be sold for £62,500 on eBay
Katie Hopkins and The Sun editor are reported to police for incitement to racial hatred following migrant boat column
'Jihadi John': Isis executioner Mohammed Emwazi wanted to wage jihad in Somalia until his friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
Parma, Missouri: 80 per cent of town's police quit after first black mayor is elected
Australian student Tommy Connolly, 23, adopts his pregnant, homeless 17-year-old cousin to give her a chance at 'a better life'
If I’m being racially abused I don’t need a stranger with a saviour complex to rescue me
The only black face in the Ukip manifesto is on the page about overseas aid
Ukip is the only main political party to not address LGBT rights in its manifesto
Food banks: One million Britons will soon be using them, according to Trussell Trust
Religion isn't growing, it is becoming vigorous in its demise, says philosopher AC Grayling
BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate
£12000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Field Sales Operative is requ...
£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Office Administrator is requ...
£12000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion and growth of ...
£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer position with a...