In honor of International Women’s Day, the Innocence Blog reviews a new book by Audrey Edmunds about her wrongful conviction,
It Happened to Audrey: A Terrifying Journey from Loving Mom to Accused Baby Killer
, which was co-written by Jill Wellington.
Women, often the primary caregivers of both the young and old, are especially vulnerable to false accusations of abuse. A common pattern in women’s wrongful conviction cases begins with the accidental death of a child or family member and ends with a murder conviction.
For Audrey Edmunds, such an accusation cost her 11 years of her life in prison—for which she may never be compensated—the chance to raise her three daughters, her marriage, and her livelihood as a family care provider to young children. Her nightmare began when seven-month-old Natalie Beard inexplicably fell unconscious one morning while in her care, making Edmunds the victim of a cultural phenomenon—a rash of “shaken baby syndrome” convictions.
It Happened to Audrey
, which Edmunds started writing while she was still behind bars, is the first account of its kind to convey the personal struggle and loss of an “accused baby killer.”
These feelings were deep and impossible for another person to understand, yet I clung to the hope that someone would grasp how shocked and horrified I was with the entire situation—because I was innocent!
The terminology that medical experts have used to describe the force of the shaking—similar to a fall from a three-story building or the impact of a car crash—has helped to enable guilty verdicts in these cases with almost no corroborating evidence. Edmunds had dozens of supporters who testified to her loving care of children; she had no history of violence and no criminal history, yet she was convicted and sentenced to serve 18 years in prison.
Natalie, though she had no external injuries and no bone fractures, was deemed “shaken” because she had the classic triage of symptoms: subdural hematoma, retinal hemorrhage and cerebral edema. Medical experts are now converging around a more holistic approach to diagnosing shaken baby syndrome that includes a closer examination of the child’s medical history and other factors.
Edmunds was finally exonerated in 2008, one of a wave of similar convictions that are being overturned due to growing doubts within the medical community about the over-diagnosis of shaken baby syndrome. She is one of 72 women who have been exonerated nationwide since 1989 after years or decades of wrongful imprisonment.
Today, she lives in Wisconsin near her three daughters, is recently remarried, and has become a strong advocate for criminal justice reform. Her book,
It Happened to Audrey
, drives home the point that no one is safe from injustice and provides a heartbreaking glimpse into the experience of wrongful imprisonment for a woman and a mother.
For a list of other books about wrongful conviction, see our
Purchase a copy of the book