Drayton Witt, freed this summer with the help of the Arizona Justice Project after 10 years in prison became the second Arizonian to have his conviction overturned in a shaken-baby syndrome case in just two years. In the state, and nationwide, such convictions have come under scrutiny in light of new challenges to the scientific basis of the syndrome. As in Witt’s case, such convictions are based on the premise that shaking a baby can result in brain damage or death, even in the absence of other physical indications of abuse such as broken bones or bruising.
The Arizona Republic reports:
Witt knows he is No. 2, the second shaken-baby conviction in Arizona to be vacated. But he figures the pattern that police and prosecutors followed in his case was repeated many more times.
“The system is flawed,” he said. “I’m sure there’s a lot of people like that.”
Witt was imprisoned in 2002 for murdering his girlfriend’s son, Steven Witt. The five month old had recurring health problems and had been hospitalized on several occasions prior to his death. Witt always insisted that he had not harmed the baby. The medical examiner who originally conducted the examination now asserts that the baby’s death can be attributed to disease, not abuse.
Witt has found another unlikely ally in Guthkelch, the pediatric neurosurgeon who developed the theory of shaken-baby syndrome in 1971.
“The death of Steven Witt is the type of case where a diagnosis of Shaken Baby Syndrome should not have been made,” Guthkelch wrote. He said there were too many other possibilities that could explain the baby’s death, and that while his process offers a possible explanation for some head injuries, any presumption that an injured child was shaken was a “distortion” of his theory.
Though Witt’s conviction has been overturned, he has not been exonerated. Prosecutors will seek to retry the case in 2013.
Read about other recent shaken-baby syndrome cases
other types of forensic science error