Last week, the Circuit Court for Tyler County in West Virginia vacated the conviction of West Virginia Innocence Project client Christopher Dodrill who was found guilty of child abuse with serious bodily injury and unlawful assault two years ago. He was sentenced to three to 15 years in prison.
Despite his repeated testimony that the young child he was taking care of fell and hit her head, Dodrill was convicted based on the state’s experts’ reports that the child’s injuries were a result of Shaken Baby Syndrome, a diagnosis that has received increased scrutiny from the medical community in recent years. Sadly, Dodrill’s trial counsel did not consult any doctors or expert witnesses to rebut the state’s theory or to explore other possible causes of the child’s injuries.
After Dodrill was convicted, the West Virginia Innocence Project Clinic at the West Virginia University School of Law intervened. They hired a biomechanical expert and a pediatric neurologist, in addition to acquiring depositions from the state’s primary expert and defense counsel, who concluded that that child’s injuries did not result from Shaken Baby Syndrome. Rather, the child had undisclosed health issues that were exacerbated by the fall.
Upon reviewing the experts’ testimony, Judge David W. Hummel, Jr., of the Tyler County Circuit Court reversed Dodrill’s conviction, ruling that his trial counsel was ineffective for not consulting or hiring a defense expert to challenge the state’s theory.
“Chris should never have served time for a crime he did not commit, but at least his case shines a light on controversial and faulty Shaken Baby Syndrome prosecutions in our state.”
“This is the second case in which a West Virginia Innocence Project client has been freed because defense attorneys did not investigate the controversial diagnosis of Shaken Baby Syndrome and experts have found and supported an alternative cause of injury,” said Valena Beety, professor of law and director of the West Virginia Innocence Project.
“Chris should never have served time for a crime he did not commit, but at least his case shines a light on controversial and faulty Shaken Baby Syndrome prosecutions in our state,” concluded Beety.