Shaken baby syndrome: Was Columbus woman in prison for 18 years because of bad science?

Ohio Innocence Project part of team reviewing a similar conviction involving shaken baby syndrome

The Columbus Dispatch reports that the science around what is known as shaken baby syndrome is evolving. Some researchers during the past twenty years have raised questions about whether brain damage routinely attributed to a baby being shaken could have other causes. It means that some previous criminal cases regarding the head-trauma deaths of infants may be under review.

Recently, Kim Hoover-Moore, 57, of Columbus, was released from the Ohio Reformatory for Women on Oct. 21 after serving 18 years in prison following her conviction in the death of Samaisha Benson, a 9-month-old girl in her care. Moore’s release came after the Franklin County prosecutor's office conceded that she deserved a new trial, then dismissed all the charges against her.

A conviction in a similar case involving Alan J. Butts is being challenged by the Ohio Innocence Project at the University of Cincinnati. Butts was convicted of murder in 2003 for what the state argued at the time was the shaken-baby death of his girlfriend's 2-year-old son. Prosecutors are opposing a motion for a new trial by Butts, 40, who is serving a sentence of 15 years to life.

"We're dealing with the same time period and the same understanding of shaken baby syndrome that existed at the time of conviction," said Donald Caster, an attorney with the Ohio Innocence Project who is representing Butts, during an interview with the Columbus Dispatch. "We presented at the hearing three experts, who said, basically, 'Look, knowing what we know today, this doesn't look like abusive trauma.'"

Butts' defense team contends that the boy was suffering from severe pneumonia, leading to breathing difficulties and a lack of oxygen to the brain, "which will cause the brain to do things like swell and bleed," said Caster, also a professor in the UC College of Law.

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Learn more about UC lawyer Donald Caster online.