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.
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.
Revelations on Dr. Stephen Hayne
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.) Of his domination of the state’s autopsies, Hayne’s critics say he was in high demand by state prosecutors because 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 also 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). Furthermore, 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.
It’s clear that the evidence used by the state to build a case against and convict Havard is insufficient. The death of Chloe Britt was a tragic accident, not a murder. Jeffrey Havard is innocent.
Additional background information on the wrongful conviction of Jeffrey Havard:
* * * * * * * * *
Support Jeffrey Havard: TAKE ACTION!
- Jeffrey Havard fights wrongful conviction and death sentence from Mississippi’s death row
- On death row now for over a decade, Jeffrey Havard fights wrongful conviction and death sentence by Mississippi state
- Update on the Wrongful Conviction of Jeffrey Havard: Open Letter Calling for Miss. Attorney General to Review Case