Hope; Jeff’s Voice

It’s hard to believe the Hearing was nine months ago. It feels like an eternity, because so much has happened since then. Most of it was very good, but the passing of my Grandmother was beyond terrible.

She passed exactly two months after my hearing was over. She was able to come to the Hearing all three days. It was so great to finally hug her and kiss her cheek a few times. I’m so glad she was able to see and hear some of the evidence argued at the Hearing. After all these years, I was finally able to have physical contact with her, and many people there on the last day of the Hearing. That turned out to be the last day I saw her alive. So bittersweet. I’ll forever cherish that special day

Of course, it was special for many other reasons as well. I got to see Lori three days in a row and I got to meet Bruce in person. I got to see an aunt and three uncles that I haven’t seen in over 16 years. I also met Mr. Jerry Mitchell and Dr. Baden and Dr. Van Ee. There were also several people there to support and assist my three attorneys, who were very passionate and did an excellent job. The courtroom was packed every day. Everyone on the opposite side of the bar, sans four people, were there to support me. I even took comfort in the fact that some of Chloe’s family were there to witness the Hearing, despite the States attempts to misrepresent a few crucial points at issue. The last day, during a recess for lunch, when the courtroom was empty, except for the baliff, myself and one of the States attorneys, would you believe that this attorney actually said hello to me?

In the Courtroom this time around the vibe was the exact opposite from the last time. This time was so bright and hopeful. It certainly didn’t feel like they were trying to have a monster convicted and executed, even though the States arguments and actions were towards that end. In a word, the experience, for me, was overwhelming. But in a good way. I remain very pleased with the experience, except for one major aspect.

We were not allowed to argue, let alone mention the underlying felony in my case.  But we were allowed to make a proffer (though it was overruled) with some of the evidence that establishes my innocence on this. If you remember, the underlying felony was used by the State as their initial probable cause, the motive (for SBS and/or abuse that led to her death) that gained my conviction. Evenmoreso, it was the reason I was given a sentence of death. These are the four fundamental aspects that my unjust conviction is based upon.

The State would object to just mere attempts to mention this underlying felony. So, as you can imagine, I’m still beyond disappointed. I’m still hopeful and cannot wait to give testimony  concerning all of this to a Grand Jury and/or a trial jury to begin to clear my name.

I’m disappointed by many other well documented reasons too. As I write this I remember things from the Hearing. The DA was present, sitting in the jury box, throughout most of it, so I cannot help but  remember how terrible the ordeal was 16 1/2 years ago. These are some of the reasons why: Sexual assault (the underlying felony) was the initial complaint in my case, making it (essentially) the probable cause. One of the first articles in the local paper said they (law enforcement) would go so far as to call me a suspect at that point, but they were waiting for confirmation of the autopsy before they charged me with a crime. Even the Sheriffs report states this. To me, that’s an obvious indication that the ER staff and law enforcement lacked the authority to diagnose or establish a sexual battery. They were waiting for the autopsy results from their expert, Dr. Hayne. He turned out to be the only expert in the case. I know I didn’t have one.

By 7pm on Friday the autopsy was complete. The autopsy report did not say one word about sexual battery. Not even one iota of a suspicion of it. The next day, between 2 and 3pm I was charged with the very thing the autopsy said nothing about. I never reviewed the autopsy report until it was turned over in discovery some 4  months later. Six months after that, my “trial” began.

At the trial, during opening statements, the State said that Hayne would confirm that a sexual battery had occurred. They presented horrible testimony by ER staff that there were rips, tears and bleeding in the anus, etc. One nurse even testified that it was the worst she’d seen in her twenty years in the medical profession. The State pointed out that Dr. Hayne found a 1 cm. contusion of the anus and asked him what that was indicative of. Haynes response was that it was consistent with penetration of an object. Then he was asked if he had tissue samples and he said he had yet the State replied “…moving right along…” Yet the State never moved to introduce them into evidence for the jury.

During closing arguments the State told the jury that sexual battery had occurred and that  Chloe was shaken to cover it up. Also the prosecution told the jury not to try to understand it, don’t try to figure it out, just know that I was guilty and vote accordingly. During directed verdict, it was conceded by the Court that there were no eyewitnesses or confession, but it was stipulated that I couldn’t give an explanation for the condition of the anus (i.e. essentially the dilation). The State argued  to the jury that because I couldn’t explain it that this was proof of my guilt of sexual battery.

By early 2014 Hayne stated in an article that he didn’t find evidence of sexual assault and he didn’t think a sexual assault had taken place. He also thought his evaluation was definitive and that he found no rips or tears of the anus. Evenmore, he stated that he told the DA and his office this and that he could not support a sexual battery. Hayne also gave sworn affidavits to this to my attorneys. In this same article, the DA was asked about this and he said that Hayne was probably his “weakest witness” but that ER staff and law enforcement verified the sexual assault. Keep in mind that Hayne was the only expert witness and the DA was waiting for him to confirm, even though it was “verified” by the ER staff and LE already. Another thing that astonished me is how the anal condition went from the worst thing ever seen by one of the ER staff to the autopsy less than 24 hours later where it was basically deemed unremarkable? How is that possible?

After the trial, the DA said some things that I still think about and question, such as; Mine was the easiest case he’d ever had. He also said to the local paper, right after my death sentence was handed down, that he took no joy in it, and that it left him with a “hollow feeling.”

Through the years I’ve learned (to try) to put myself in someone else’s shoes in order to understand them. If I were a DA and I knew the evidence was legitimate, and it was the embodiment of what made it worthy of the ultimate punishment (he said, “…If not this case, which one?”) then, I’d rest content in the fact that I did my job by the law and facts, and the process removed an evil man from society. Saying you have a “hollow feeling” suggests being uneasy or maybe even doubtful, but that’s just me.

Looking back on it all, would you believe that I don’t blame him for some of his actions? Though only to a certain extent. What I mean is: if I were DA and initially all of these alleged facts and circumstances were presented to me, I’d probably react as he did. I know if I believed that someone did what I was (wrongfully) accused of back then, I’d be zealous at trying to remove them from society. So, I don’t fault his visceral reaction.

However, there’s a moral and legal line that shouldn’t be crossed. For instance, when the objective and forensics came out (like the autopsy findings, etc.) that showed the  evidence was, at best, inconclusive, he should have paused for more testing or stopped altogether. Exactly the opposite happened. Not only did he double down to prosecute and gain a conviction, he mashed the pedal to the floor and also gained my sentence of death.

Again, I understand the visceral zealousness, but it was the moral/legal line that I can’t understand or ever forget. Surely this could cause a “hollow feeling.” But hey, everyone makes mistakes , big or small. It’s what we do about them that ultimately define us. There is now a golden opportunity to rectify it. I’m still faithful in the system.

Okay, I’ll step down from my soap box, but I hope you can understand my dissatisfaction that none of this was allowed to be argued at my Hearing.

The Hearing went very well though, and my experts made their points and established what I’ve said all along. Even the States witness concessions supported me. Taking their perspective and their versions of the evidence, it’s plain that the evidence was insufficient. I’m so pleased about that.

I could write all day about just the highlights from the Hearing, but let me give just an example of what I’m talking about.

Here are a few direct quotes by Dr. Baden:

“…we have to look at the autopsy findings, and in my opinion when the autopsy findings are consistent with a very early explanation by the person present, that gives me a lot more weight because it’s hard to give an account that will match with the autopsy if you’re not telling the truth.”

” …what I gathered from Mr. Harvard’s description was that the baby fell on its head, striking porcelain, striking the floor, and striking the wall. So, that is consistent with an accidental fall. Did he deliberately let go of the baby? I cannot tell that, except that what he says makes sense and is consistent. ”

Under cross examination by the State, Dr. Baden said,

“…I think in this area of SBS, we’ve been dealing with a condition that’s overstated, doesn’t cause the death and innocent people can be convicted on that.”

” …,In this case, I think, that the fact that there are multiple bruises doesn’t mean it’s a homicide. ”

Even the judge asked Dr. Baden a couple of questions:

Q. The injuries that Dr. Hayne noted to that child, it’s my understanding that it’s your professional opinion that those injuries could not have been caused by shaking alone?

A. Yes, your honor.

Q. But they could have been caused by an impact without shaking?

A. Yes, sir.

I also want to point out something the States expert pediatrician said in his deposition that also came out under cross exam. He was asked  in the deposition what he thought happened. He testified that he thought she was abused, but didn’t feel there was “any attempt to harm her (Chloe). Probably not.” And that he found ” …no definitive signs of abuse. ” I’ll let all of you decide what he means there, but, as for me I don’t know how you’re supposed to accidentally inflict intentional abuse upon someone?

Now, as far as the judge goes: I got the sense that he was  listening to us and that he was very concerned. I got the sense that he is Honorable and deserving of that title before his name. I believe he will make this right.

Just before the Hearing ended he said:

“…The witnesses I’ve heard, and I don’t recall a case I’ve had with quite the collection of expert witnesses that we’ve had in this matter. The subject of this case, the death of a child, the death penalty is serious business. This case involved what I would term a monumental intersection between medicine and science with criminal law. It does, you I ow, for all the lawyers training in here, for all my training as a lawyer, as a judge, thousands of cases I’ve heard in 23 years, all the training of these expert witnesses, the scientists, the doctors, the fact remains there’s only one person in this courtroom that knows what is justice in this case. Only one person. We have some very strong opinions. Everybody does. Both sides of this matter, not just in this courtroom. There’s only one person that really knows what justice is, but this is not a court of justice. This is a court of law. That’s why we’re going through these procedures and dealing with the law as we are. I will tell you I realize this is one of the most important decisions I have faced in 23 years on the bench if not the most important, and I don’t take that lightly, and I will take my time… ”

I’m sure the parts about justice really caught your attention. I know it caught mine. I think that ultimately every courtroom is the place where justice comes to light by  and through the rule of law. Obviously justice is supposed to occur in the courtroom. When the judge said, “…this is not a court of justice” , I believe he meant; we all have our opinions in this matter, thus our own idea of what justice should be. So, when he says it’s “not a court of justice, it’s a court of law”, he means this will not be a court of what any individuals idea of what justice should be, but rather this will be a court of justice by the letter and spirit of the law. Now, when he said that about only one person knowing what justice is, I really believe that says it all. At the original trial over 16 years ago, the way it all went back then my conviction meant that I was supposed to be guilty beyond any reasonable doubt. Now the judge said no less than three times that only one person knows what justice is. Obviously that person is me and at the very least the judge can see a reasonable doubt here and nothing he’s seen thus far from the State can prove otherwise. I know I’m so ready to affirmatively establish my innocence.

Back in March of 2016 I gave a quote to a local paper in Natchez. I said the appellate process was”hellish” and “it seems the more favorable to me the true evidence became, the more dilatory the process becomes” and, “…somehow, though, I’ve remained hopeful in the process of justice and truth, That they will eventually prove to be one and the same.”

You know, a  criminal case is like a jigsaw puzzle that’s dumped out onto the table without the benefit of the picture on the box to help you put it together. Back at my trial, the State attempted to put it all together starting with the easiest straight edged pieces to make the pictures outline. They failed to build the complete outline. Fast forward to now consider the evidence (or puzzle pieces) that were or were not allowed at my Hearing, and it’s obvious the puzzle is complete. That picture shows no crime. I believe that one day soon, justice and truth will be the same.

 

* If you haven’t read the new book, “The Cadaver King and The Country Dentist”, please do. It highlights some of the injustice in my case as well as several others. I want to thank the authors, Radley Balko and Tucker Carrington, as well as John Grisham who wrote the forward, for raising awareness about the injustice detailed throughout the book. Thank you to all of you for showing what’s really going on down here!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Lori Howard

I have long searched for my purpose in life and have come to realize that my calling is to advocate for the wrongfully convicted. I AM relentless.
This entry was posted in Jeff's Voice and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Hope; Jeff’s Voice

  1. Cara M. Jones says:

    I hope so much that Jeff’s journey is almost over. As I read his story, and having worked Rafael’s for the last seven years, I realize we can’t make this stuff up! Reality is a horror story! However, the general public is ignorant. The ones who aren’t ignorant, just don’t care. There are THOUSANDS like Jeff and Rafael.

    Like

  2. DAVID SPRAGUE says:

    I bet few cases end showing so clearly that a defendant is innocent as this one. The hearing testimony and expert witnesses are extremely strong. You have the State many times trying to mislead with weak conjecture. When they are forced to testify to the facts of the evidence they support what the evidence shows and the underlying reasonable doubt that is undeniable!

    They were backed into several instances where either they admit past testimony or commit perjury.
    One admits SBS is junk science though supporting it several times in the past. They were excellent Defense witnesses when they are forced to admit they were not qualified to make pertinent testimony as experts. They all admit there is no evidence of sexual battery; yet, that was the motive that opened the door to SBS and homicide and ultimately the death penalty. Unfairly the defense cannot include the sexual battery in this hearing although the fatal shaking was the purported action pointing to and following the dreamed up sexual battery. So the Defense must present that the junk science of SBS has changed but cannot mention that the exclusion of SBS removes all the charges that he was convicted of.

    The State witnesses reluctantly admit this blunt force fall is consistent with Chloie’s injuries. This is admitting Jeff’s first statement of an accidental fall of blunt force trauma fits the evidence. It is consistent with either an accident or an intentional fall. There is no evidence showing what actually happened. Only one innocent man knows that answer.

    The State admits their only expert witness is their weakest one. He tries to leave a subjective opinion that would lead you to believe in the State’s theory. When he is confronted with past admissions of the facts he is forced to acknowledge the truth. Jeff was convicted on too many lies or opinions of those not qualified to give them. The State tells the jury in the first trial Hayne saw signs of sexual abuse when the autopsy clearly does not. He says he never thought that or said that. At the least, it is unethical if not criminal that he did not point out this discrepancy to the State and jury. Too many people no better but let a man face Death Row! Hopefully, this will come out in a civil trial and justice will be done.

    You have the State’s witness holding up the autopsy photo and pointed to it claiming terrible wounds and gashes that do not exist in that photo. It was just like in the Calunisky case where a new coroner says that the first coroner testimony of what he saw was the opposite of the truth. You can excuse an unqualified nurse for not knowing the difference between a horrible abuse victim and one an expert would call unremarkable. On the other hand, an expert that knows better and have no qualms about executing an innocent man needs to be prosecuted.

    The Truth was always on Jeff’s side. Now that all the lies have been discovered and real expert testimony can give us the best scientific answer no honorable and ethical judge can ignore the Truth. Without knowing the judge and his track record it scares me thinking some obscure procedure would be used to invalidate pure Truth. I hope not. Anyone that fears God would not do such a thing. On Judgment Day you do not want to face your Creator with a crime like that.

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