The future is uncertain for Jeffery Havard, who currently sits wrongfully convicted in solitary confinement on Mississippi’s death row, where he has remained for almost 13 years. Time is running out for prisoner L3955.
Havard, 36, has been incarcerated at Parchman Penitentiary since December of 2002, when he was charged for sexually abusing and murdering his former girlfriend’s six-month-old daughter, Chloe Britt, who died from preexisting medical conditions and an accidental shortfall.
In fact, the baby slipped from Jeff’s hands while he was lifting her from the bathtub, which tragically resulted in her hitting her head on the toilet. Following the accident, Havard evaluated the infant, who appeared to be uninjured.
New findings by experts support Havard’s claims that he is innocent of all charges filed against him by the state of Mississippi.
While the state of Mississippi argued that Jeff, 36, sexually abused and killed the child, Havard maintains that he accidentally dropped her while removing her from the bathtub.
Revelations about Dr. Stephen Hayne
Critical to Havard’s conviction was the testimony of controversial medical examiner Dr. Stephen Hayne, who originally concluded from his autopsy that the death was a homicide, the result of shaken baby syndrome (SBS), and that an anal contusion with a diameter of one centimeter he had observed was “consistent with penetration of the rectum with an object.”
In a phone interview from the Mississippi State Penitentiary, Havard told The Natchez Democrat the state unfairly asked him to testify about the child’s anal dilation:
“The burden [of proof] was improperly placed on me to explain their predicate for why they thought there was sexual battery,” Havard stated.
“As a layperson, how am I supposed to explain something I have no clue [about]?”
Investigative journalist Radley Balko reports on Hayne’s conclusions:
Because the symptoms can only be produced by violent shaking, the diagnosis also comes with a built-in indictment of the suspect’s state of mind. It’s a diagnosis that does much of the prosecutor’s work for him.
But SBS has come under fire in recent years. A number of experts have begun to question the validity of the diagnosis and how it’s used in court, pointing out, for example, that a number of other factors could cause the symptoms that experts have been telling juries could be caused only by shaking. But even if one were to accept SBS as a sound and legitimate diagnosis, other forensic pathologists say Hayne shouldn’t have found it in this case.
…[Anal] dilation can start to set in before death if a child’s brain function has already begun to slow down. When Chloe Britt arrived at the hospital, her symptoms suggested someone in that condition.
Since trial, Hayne himself has backpedaled with regard to his testimony, conceding to Havard’s legal team that the alleged anal bruise could have been caused by a rectal thermometer, adding that he thought this unlikely. Hayne further stated that he had observed no anal tearing or lacerations, and that his autopsy findings were not necessarily conclusive of sexual assault. USA Today reports:
“I didn’t think there was a sexual assault,” Hayne said of his 2002 autopsy of Chloe. “I didn’t see any evidence of sexual assault.”
Hayne performed 80-90 percent of the autopsies in Mississippi from the early 1990s until 2007. Between the late 1980s and and late 2000s, Hayne performed approximately 1,700 autopsies a year, despite the fact that the National Association of Medical Examiners recommends that medical examiners perform a maximum of 325 autopsies annually. Hayne’s critics attribute the physician’s monopolization of the state’s autopsies to the high demand for his services by state prosecutors who knew that his testimonies got convictions.
In August of 2008, Hayne was removed from a list of approved forensic pathologists, barred by the state from performing any more autopsies on account of a new regulation requiring that any physician performing an official autopsy for the state be certified by the American Board of Pathology, which, despite his own claims, Hayne was not.
Expert review findings
During his trial, Havard asked the court for funding to hire an expert to review Hayne’s work, a request the court denied, ruling that Dr. Hayne’s findings were sufficient.
Following Havard’s conviction, however, the Mississippi Capital Post Conviction Office retained former Alabama state medical examiner Dr. Jim Lauridson to review Hayne’s work, which Lauridson determined was “lacking.” The Huffington Post reports:
He found that there was no physical evidence to state conclusively that Chloe Britt had been shaken to death instead of dying from hitting her head, as Havard claimed. He also explained that the small bruise near the girl’s anus could have come from hospital staff inserting a rectal thermometer in the emergency room. Moreover, Lauridson found that anal dilation like that observed in Britt was common in infants post-mortem.
Further, Lauridson concluded that the evidence did not support Hayne’s claim that dilated anus of the baby was indicative of sexual abuse.
When Havard’s lawyers presented Lauridson’s review to the state supreme court in 2006, the justices immediately dismissed it, because the dilation was originally observed by emergency room staff while the baby was still alive. What the Mississippi Supreme Court failed to consider, however, was that Chloe was brain dead prior to intubation/life support (although the hospital was able to restore Chloe’s breathing, the absence of brain activity in the child indicates that she was dead on arrival.) Moreover, there were no traces of Havard’s DNA in or on the baby.
What the court alos failed to consider is that such dilation can occur prior to death if brain functions have begun to slow or cease, which those of Chloe had not only slowed, but shut down completely by the time she arrived at the hospital.
In March 2012, the Jackson Clarion-Ledger retained renowned forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Baden to provide his expert opinion on the autopsy report. Baden concluded from his exam that Chloe Britt was not sexually assaulted and that her injuries were consistent with an accidental drop.
Like Lauridson, Baden also stated that there were numerous potential causes for the anal contusion found in the original autopsy, including irritation from a diaper or diarrhea.
Testimony by Chloe Britt’s mother contradicts pretrial statements
Further evidence of Havard’s innocence are the conflicting statements made by Chloe Britt’s mother, Rebecca Britt, who was Havard’s girlfriend at the time of the child’s death. At trial, Britt testified that Havard paid very little attention to the child and that she was unable to recall him ever bathing her, casting doubt on Havard’s account of events.
Since then, however, Havard’s lawyers discovered a video of Rebecca Britt’s initial statement to police, in which she said that Havard loved her daughter and played a role in her care-taking, feeding and changing her. She showed no indication of surprise that Havard had bathed Chloe on the night of her death.
Testimony by an emergency room nurse confirmed that Rebecca Britt had explicitly stated to her that Chloe’s bath by Havard was planned in advance. In addition, Rebecca Britt’s mother confirmed the same in a written statement, further suggesting that she, as a mother, entrusted Havard to care for the infant.
Predetermined Outcome by the Court
Without exception, each of Harvard’s appeals have been denied outright by the state. In his latest petition to the court, Havard asks 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 evidentiary hearing in federal court. In this case, the court actually granted Havard leave to raise newly discovered evidence and prosecutorial misconduct for consideration.
Havard clearly deserves this opportunity, as unfortunately, he has earned it by spending 13 years of his life on death row, attributable to the state of Mississippi’s “justice” system.
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