On death row now for over a decade, Jeffrey Havard fights wrongful conviction and death sentence by Mississippi state

April 22, 2013 | Lisa Dawson


Jeffrey Havard currently sits in solitary confinement on death row in Mississippi, wrongfully convicted in 2002 of murdering and sexually abusing his then-girlfriend’s 6-month old daughter, Chloe Britt, who died from head injuries. While the state of Mississippi argues that Havard, 34, sexually abused and killed the child, Havard maintains that he accidentally dropped her while removing her from the bathtub.

If you’re not familiar with Jeffrey Havard’s case, read a summary of Havard’s case hereBruce Fischer also provides a good background on GroundReport.

I initially learned of the case through colleague and friend Lori Havard (@LoriHavard16 on Twitter), a relentless advocate for the wrongfully convicted and who has a drive I envy, which she claims materialized after coming this close to catching a serious wrongful conviction case of her own five years ago.

Lori’s devotion to proving Havard’s innocence inspired me to examine the facts for myself, and as I reviewed the facts and countless stories on the case, I became more and more appalled. One thing became crystal clear  to me: Havard’s conviction reeks of WRONGFUL in a really bad, alarming sort of way. The kind of way that caused me to wonder if at this moment I was somehow involved in some sort of freak situation that could earn me a wrongful conviction, landing me in solitary confinement on death row for years on end, all due to some outrageous misinterpretation or spinning of facts as they occurred—all completely out of my control.

Critical to Havard’s conviction was the testimony of controversial medical examiner Dr. Stephen Hayne,  who concluded from his autopsy that the death was a homicide, the result of shaken baby syndrome, and that an anal contusion (with a diameter of one centimeter) he had observed was “consistent with penetration of the rectum with an object.”

Since trial, however, even Hayne himself has backpedaled with regard to his testimony, conceding to Havard’s legal team that the anal bruise could have been caused by a rectal thermometer, adding that he thought this unlikely. Hayne further stated that he had observed no anal tearing or lacerations, and that his autopsy findings were not necessarily conclusive of sexual assault.

WAPT News reports  on the controversy surrounding the testimony of Dr. Stephen Hayne, the medical examiner who conducted the autopsy of Chloe Britt and testified against Havard at trial:

Former state Supreme Court Justice Oliver Diaz said Hayne’s testimony that Havard shook the baby to death went unchallenged because the public defender couldn’t afford a second exam. 

He was denied the use of his own expert in that case, but they allowed the state to proffer Dr. Hayne as an expert for the state,” said Diaz, who served on the Mississippi Supreme Court from 2000 to 2008.

In a story published yesterday by the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, from which I quote liberally throughout this post, Emily Lane reports on Havard’s most recent to prove his innocence:

Mississippi death row inmate Jeffrey Havard recently filed a petition in federal court requesting relief from his capital murder conviction and death sentence, claiming they are a “violation of numerous of constitutional rights.”

Havard was convicted in [2002] in Natchez for sexual battery and murder of his then girlfriend’s daughter, 6-month-old Chloe Britt. He admits accidentally dropping her but denies sexually abusing and killing her…

Attached to Havard’s petition is an appendix including 10 media reports by The Clarion-Ledger’s Jerry Mitchell, The New York Times, Huffington Post, CNN, InjusticeAnywhere.com and others.

Backtracking to 2002 when Havard was convicted, it’s important to note two important details, both of which unquestionably impacted the outcome of his case, facilitating Mississippi state’s determination that he is no longer worthy of life.

The article continues, detailing how the flimsy evidence used to build a case against Havard—the same evidence on which the great state of Mississippi based its conviction and death sentence of a young man—has been further discredited:

Since the conviction, questions about the autopsy and testimony of pathologist Dr. Steven Hayne, who performed the autopsy, have been brought to light by a number of local and national media outlets…

At trial Hayne testified the death was a homicide, consistent with shaken baby syndrome, and that an anal contusion was “consistent with penetration of the rectum with an object.”

But Hayne has since acknowledged to Havard’s attorneys the contusion was found in an area easily injured and a rectal thermometer like the one used in the emergency room to check the child’s temperature could cause such a contusion but that he did not think it was likely.

Hayne conducted autopsies for the state from the late 1980s and the late 2000s. He was removed from a list of approved forensic pathologists in 2008.

In March 2012, the good people at the Jackson Clarion-Ledger got the expert opinion that should have been granted to Havard by the court over a decade ago:

At The Clarion-Ledger’s request, world-renowned pathologist Dr. Michael Baden examined Hayne’s autopsy report and photographs and concluded there was no evidence of sexual abuse – or even of a homicide.

The outcome of the new examination? I was very pleased but not surprised at Baden’s conclusions:

The injuries described at autopsy were consistent with “the baby being accidentally dropped and striking her head on the toilet tank as the father described,” Baden said.

The anal abrasion described in the autopsy can be the result of common causes, such as constipation, diarrhea, toilet paper or even rubbing against a diaper, he said.

The Jackson Clarion-Ledger concludes:

Havard‘s 169-page petition and request for a speedy trial was filed March 29. Havard told The Natchez Democrat the trial unfairly asked him to testify about the dilation of the child’s body [which, according to Havard intermediary Lori Howard, put the burden of proof to explain the dilation on Havard].

“The burden [of proof] was improperly placed on me to explain their predicate for why they thought there was sexual battery,” Havard told Reporter Vershal Hogan in a phone interview from the Mississippi State Penitentiary.

Havard also reportedly said the hospital personnel were not qualified under the law to speak about sexual abuse.

“The (emergency room) staffs were allowed to say things that were expert opinions. The only person who was tendered to give expert opinion – (Hayne) – was never asked to give his opinion,” Havard said.

Adams County District Attorney Ronnie Harper told The Democrat he thought the testimony of the hospital personnel was based on personal observations, and they did not have to be tendered as experts.

In his latest petition to the court, Havard asks for relief of the original conviction and sentence, also requesting “at the very least” permission to produce evidence raised in the petition during a proposed evidentiary hearing in federal court.

I’d be hard-pressed to find a reason to deny his hard-earned requests, already paid for in full by Havard personally with over a decade of his life, wasted in the bowels of Mississippi’s penal system—in solitary confinement and on death row, likely wondering if his only ticket out of the hellhole in which Mississippi currently holds him is his own death.


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6 thoughts on “On death row now for over a decade, Jeffrey Havard fights wrongful conviction and death sentence by Mississippi state

  1. Welcome and thank you for following my blog. I have just read your latest post and will be following you also. The forum you write about needs so much light shown upon it. This case is one example of the atrocious crimes against so-called criminals. People who rely upon Public Defenders usually don’t have the money to help defend themselves. Please keep up the good work.

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