As discussed in the previous post, an ongoing investigation by NPR, ProPublica and PBS Frontline has found that the death investigation system in the U.S. could be in need of improvement. The investigation found that not all forensic pathologists have the qualifications or certifications required to conduct an accurate death investigation. The system also lacks funding, enough specialists and national standards.
These factors can lead to wrongful charges and convictions for homicide, sexual assault and other violent crimes. This can particularly happen in cases of children’s deaths because some fatal diseases in children may appear similar to the signs of child abuse. The investigation looked into numerous cases where people’s convictions for murdering a child were overturned after it was found that the death investigation was faulty or clouded by bias.
As discussed in the previous post, one man is currently seeking to have his 60-year prison sentence lifted and his conviction for the sexual assault of a child he was babysitting who later died overturned. Forensic pathologists are not necessarily trained in child medicine and may not have the expertise to determine how a child died if death was caused by disease.
The man was charged with sexual assault of the baby because she was found to be seriously bruised and bleeding from everywhere, which suggested to the investigator sexual abuse and blunt force trauma. Since the trial, other experts in child sexual assaults and diseases in children consulted by the man’s new defense attorney have said that they believe the baby died of a bleeding disorder and was not assaulted or abused.
If the baby experienced child abuse, the man’s new defense team believes that it was committed by the baby’s mother, who was a doctor. The defense team believes the baby was neglected by her mother, who may have a chronic alcohol problem. The day before the baby’s death, the man says that the mother would not let him take the child to a doctor even though he says he had noticed and was concerned for her deteriorating health.
Source: NPR.com, “The Child Cases: Guilty Until Proved Innocent,” A.C. Thomson, Joseph Shapiro, Sandra Bartlett and Chisun Lee, 28 June 2011