This is reblogged from Lockup Reform:
April 22nd 2013
The 2002 conviction of Jeffrey Havard reeks of WRONGFUL in a really bad, alarming sort of way. The kind of way that caused me to wonder if at this moment I was somehow involved in some sort of freak situation that could earn me a wrongful conviction, landing me in solitary confinement on death row for years on end, all due to some outrageous misinterpretation or spinning of facts as they occurred—all completely out of my control.
I was not familiar with Havard’s case until a colleague and friend, Lori Howard (@LoriHoward16), who is a relentless advocate for the wrongfully convicted (she’s got a one-track mind and a drive I envy, which she claims materialized after coming this close to catching a serious wrongful conviction case of her own five years ago), started sharing bits and pieces of his story with me. Her devotion to freeing Havard inspired me to examine the facts for myself, so guided by Lori, I started reading and reading on the case.
I advocate for criminal justice reform and prisoners’ rights in my own work, but really focus my efforts on people held in prolonged solitary confinement, so this was new territory for me. But as I started processing the information, the facts and the countless stories on Havard, I was appalled. If you’re not familiar with Jeffrey Havard’s case, Bruce Fischer provides a good background on GroundReport. Or here’s the real quick and dirty of it (as posted on the official Free Jeffrey Havard Facebook page):
Backtracking to 2002 when Havard was convicted, it’s important to note two important details, each of which unquestionably impacted the outcome of his case, facilitating Mississippi state’s determination that he is no longer worthy of life. As reported in a recent story on WAPT News:
Former state Supreme Court Justice Oliver Diaz said Hayne’s testimony that Havard shook the baby to death went unchallenged because the public defender couldn’t afford a second exam.
He was denied the use of his own expert in that case, but they allowed the state to proffer Dr. Hayne as an expert for the state,” said Diaz, who served on the Mississippi Supreme Court from 2000 to 2008.
With these injustices in mind, new information and details have continued to surface in connection with the original evidence incriminating Havard, which has from the start been perceived by many as dubious at best (not even). Recently there has been increased media attention to the already well known, controversial case, including a story published yesterday by The Clarion-Ledger, from which I quote liberally throughout this post:
Mississippi death row inmate Jeffrey Havard recently filed a petition in federal court requesting relief from his capital murder conviction and death sentence, claiming they are a “violation of numerous of constitutional rights.”
Havard was convicted in  in Natchez for sexual battery and murder of his then girlfriend’s daughter, 6-month-old Chloe Britt. He admits accidentally dropping her but denies sexually abusing and killing her…
Attached to Havard’s petition is an appendix including 10 media reports by The Clarion-Ledger’s Jerry Mitchell, The New York Times, Huffington Post, CNN, InjusticeAnywhere.com and others.
Now the flimsy evidence used to build a case against Havard—the same evidence on which the great state of Mississippi based its conviction and death sentence of a young man—has been further discredited. As stated by The Clarion-Ledger:
Since the conviction, questions about the autopsy and testimony of pathologist Dr. Steven Hayne, who performed the autopsy, have been brought to light by a number of local and national media outlets…
At trial Hayne testified the death was a homicide, consistent with shaken baby syndrome, and that an anal contusion was “consistent with penetration of the rectum with an object.”
But Hayne has since acknowledged to Havard’s attorneys the contusion was found in an area easily injured and a rectal thermometer like the one used in the emergency room to check the child’s temperature could cause such a contusion but that he did not think it was likely.
Hayne conducted autopsies for the state from the late 1980s and the late 2000s. He was removed from a list of approved forensic pathologists in 2008.
And now I give props to the good people at The Clarion-Ledger for their huge show of support and efforts to finally get Havard the trial he should have had over a decade ago:
At The Clarion-Ledger’s request, world-renowned pathologist Dr. Michael Baden examined Hayne’s autopsy report and photographs and concluded there was no evidence of sexual abuse – or even of a homicide.
The outcome of the new examination? I was very pleased but not surprised at Baden’s conclusions:
The injuries described at autopsy were consistent with “the baby being accidentally dropped and striking her head on the toilet tank as the father described,” Baden said.
The anal abrasion described in the autopsy can be the result of common causes, such as constipation, diarrhea, toilet paper or even rubbing against a diaper, he said.
Wrapping up, The Clarion-Ledger concludes:
Havard‘s 169-page petition and request for a speedy trial was filed March 29. Havard told The Natchez Democrat the trial unfairly asked him to testify about the dilation of the child’s body [which, according to Havard intermediary Lori Howard, put the burden of proof to explain the dilation on Havard].
“The burden [of proof] was improperly placed on me to explain their predicate for why they thought there was sexual battery,” Havard told Reporter Vershal Hogan in a phone interview from the Mississippi State Penitentiary.
Havard also reportedly said the hospital personnel were not qualified under the law to speak about sexual abuse.
“The (emergency room) staffs were allowed to say things that were expert opinions. The only person who was tendered to give expert opinion – (Hayne) – was never asked to give his opinion,” Havard said.
Adams County District Attorney Ronnie Harper told The Democrat he thought the testimony of the hospital personnel was based on personal observations, and they did not have to be tendered as experts.
In his latest petition, Havard asks the court for relief of the original conviction and sentence, also requesting “at the very least,” permission to produce evidence raised in the petition during a proposed evidenciary hearing in federal court. I’d be hard-pressed to find a reason to deny his hard-earned requests, already paid for in full by Havard personally with over a decade of his life, wasted in the bowels of Mississippi’s penal system—in solitary confinement and on death row, likely wondering if his only ticket out of the hellhole in which Mississippi currently holds him is his own death.
To stay current on unfolding developments in Jeffrey Havard’s fight for his life and freedom from the clenches of Mississippi’s penal system and death row:
If you support Jeffrey Havard, think he should be granted a new trial and want to see his face added to the Faces of Innocence collage below, please be sure to sign the Change.org petition calling on United States District Judge Keith Starrett to Grant Jeffrey Havard a New Trial!