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Part II: tragedy compounded

In our previous post, we told you the beginning of the story of a man serving a 60-year sentence for thesexual assault of a six-month-old girl. However, there's growing evidence that the man never harmed the infant girl he had been babysitting.

After his arrest following the girl's death, he stood trial for sexual assault in April of 2003. Prosecutors decided to hold back on a capital murder charge; they could try him for that crime later.

The case against the man was built largely on the testimony of medical experts. Doctors and nurses from the hospital where the girl had been taken testified that she had been violently assaulted. A nurse who specialized in sexual assault examinations said it was one of the most vicious cases she'd seen in her 20 years on the job.

The man testified on his own behalf, insisting the girl had been bitten by a spider and that she'd exhibited strange symptoms after the bite and before her death.

The jury came back with its verdict: guilty. The judge sentenced him to 60 years in prison.

A lawyer who took on the case afterwards had some of the medical evidence re-examined by experts. And what began to emerge was not a portrait of a baby brutalized, but rather one who had suffered from Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation (DIC), a potentially deadly condition that can cause bleeding from every orifice of the body.

The experts looked at the child's elevated white blood cell count and irregular liver tests and concluded she'd been suffering for days before the babysitter accused of assaulting her had called for medical help.

While the man still sits every day in his prison cell, there is hope that he'll eventually be exonerated and freed. And while his story comes out of Texas, experts say these kinds of medical errors happen all over the country on a regular basis, resulting in the incarceration of innocent people for crimes they never committed.

Source: National Public Radio: "The Child Cases: Guilty Until Proved Innocent" by A.C. Thompson, Joseph Shapiro, Sandra Bartlett and Chisun Lee: June 28, 2011

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