Jeffrey Havard fights wrongful conviction and death sentence from Mississippi’s death row

Jeffrey Havard: Wrongfully Convicted by state if Mississippi

The future is uncertain for Jeffery Havard. who has endured solitary confinement on Mississippi’s Death Row for the last ten years. Time is running out for inmate L3955.

In February of 2002, Havard was accued 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 argued that Havard, 34, sexually abused and killed the child, Havard maintains that he accidentally dropped her while removing her from the bathtub.

Revelations about Dr. Stephen Hayne

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 (SBS), and that an anal contusion with a diameter of one centimeter he had observed was “consistent with penetration of the rectum with an object.”

In a phone interview from the Mississippi State Penitentiary, Havard told The Natchez Democrat the state unfairly asked him to testify about the child’s anal dilation.

“The burden [of proof] was improperly placed on me to explain their predicate for why they thought there was sexual battery,” Havard stated.

“As a layperson, how a, I supposed to explain something I have no clue (about)?”

Investigative reporter Radley Balko reports on Hayne’s conclusions:

Because the symptoms can only be produced by violent shaking, the diagnosis also comes with a built-in indictment of the suspect’s state of mind. It’s a diagnosis that does much of the prosecutor’s work for him.

But SBS has come under fire in recent years. A number of experts have begun to question the validity of the diagnosis and how it’s used in court, pointing out, for example, that a number of other factors could cause the symptoms that experts have been telling juries could be caused only by shaking. But even if one were to accept SBS as a sound and legitimate diagnosis, other forensic pathologists say Hayne shouldn’t have found it in this case.

…[Anal] dilation can start to set in before death if a child’s brain function has already begun to slow down. When Chloe Britt arrived at the hospital, her symptoms suggested someone in that condition.

Since trial, 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.

Hayne performed 80-90 percent of the autopsies in Mississippi from the early 1990s until 2007, which, according to Hayne himself,  amounted to between 1,200 and 1,800 autopsies a year. (The National Association of Medical Examiners recommends that medical examiners perform a maximum of 325 autopsies annually.) Hayne’s critics attribute the physician’s monopolization of the state’s autopsies to the high demand for his services by state prosecutors  who knew that his testimonies got convictions.

In August of 2008, Hayne was removed from a list of approved forensic pathologists, barred by the state from performing any more autopsies on account of a new regulation requiring that any physician performing an official autopsy for the state be certified by the American Board of Pathology, which, despite his own claims, Hayne was not.

Expert review findings

During his trial, Havard asked the court for funding to hire an expert to review Hayne’s work, a request the court denied, ruling that Dr. Hayne’s findings were sufficient.

Following Havard’s conviction, however, the Mississippi Capital Post Conviction Office retained former Alabama state medical examiner Dr. Jim Lauridson to review Hayne’s work, which Lauridson determined was lacking.

Upon reviewing the autopsy report and photos, Lauridson concluded that the evidence did not support Hayne’s claim that dilated anus of the baby was indicative of sexual abuse.

Lauridson further stated that dilation can occur naturally after death, also noting that there was no evidence of tears or lacerations and that the hospital had used a rectal thermometer on the baby in its futile efforts to revive her (although the hospital was able to restore Chloe’s breathing, the absence of brain activity in the child indicates that she was dead on arrival). Moreover, there were no traces of Havard’s DNA in or on the baby.

When Havard’s lawyers presented Lauridson’s review to the state supreme court in 2006, the justices immediately dismissed it, because the dilation was originally observed by emergency room staff while the baby was still alive.

What the court failed to consider, however, is that such dilation can occur prior to death if brain functions have begun to slow, which those of Chloe had not only slowed, but shut down completely by the time she arrived at the hospital.

In March 2012, the Jackson Clarion-Ledger retained renowned forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Baden to provide his expert opinion on the autopsy report. Baden concluded from his exam that Chloe Britt was not sexually assaulted and that her injuries were consistent with an accidental drop.

Like Lauridson, Baden also stated that there were numerous potential causes for the anal contusion found in the original autopsy, including irritation from a diaper or diarrhea.

Testimony by Chloe Britt’s mother contradicts pretrial statements

Further evidence of Havard’s innocence are the conflicting statements made by Chloe Britt’s mother, Rebecca Britt, who was Havard’s girlfriend at the time of the child’s death. At trial, Britt testified that Havard paid very little attention to the child and that she was unable to recall him ever bathing her, casting doubt on Havard’s account of events.

Since then, however, Havard’s lawyers discovered a video of Rebecca Britt’s initial statement to police, in which she said that Havard loved her daughter and played a role in her care-taking, feeding and changing her. She showed no indication of surprise that Havard had bathed Chloe on the night of her death.

Testimony by an ER nurse that Rebecca Britt had specifically stated to her that Chloe’s bath by Havard was planned and agreed upon by the couple in advance further indicates that the mother was not only aware Havard would bathe Chloe that night, but that she, as a mother, entrusted him to do so.

Havard’s post-conviction fight for justice

The court has denied appeals by Havard, as well, including his request that the court consider Lauridson’s testimony, which was refused by Mississippi Supreme court on the grounds that the evidence should have been introduced at trial (despite denying Havard’s request for an outside expert opinion of Hayne’s autopsy findings).

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.

Havard has clearly earned this opportunity, paid for in full by Havard personally with over a decade of his life in Mississippi’s penal system, where he still remains in solitary confinement and on death row.

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6 thoughts on “Jeffrey Havard fights wrongful conviction and death sentence from Mississippi’s death row

  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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