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In 2002, Jeff Havard was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death in Mississippi for the sexual assault and murder of his girlfriend’s six-month-old daughter, Chloe Britt. In May of 2016, the Mississippi Supreme Court ordered an evidentiary hearing for Jeff’s case based on defense claims of new evidence due to changes in the science behind Shaken Baby Syndrome. In September of 2018, Jeff’s death penalty sentence was vacated, and a resentencing hearing was ordered. On December 18, 2018, Jeff was resentenced to life without parole. Jeff is now off death row, but his fight is far from over.
The truth about this case is clear. Chloe slipped from Jeff’s arms while lifting her from the tub after a bath, causing her head to hit a nearby toilet. New expert evidence supports Jeff’s claims. Chloe’s death was a tragic accident, not a murder. Jeff Havard is innocent.
Lori Howard and Injustice Anywhere promoted a letter writing campaign for Jeff back in 2013 that did not go unnoticed. In fact, it prompted Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood to respond:
“The State has no knowledge of how this case has become such a public one, the State directs this Court to Exhibit B. Routinely, the State receives letters from across the country, from concerned citizens pleading for the life of Jeffrey Havard. See Exhibit B. Curiously, each of the letters (submitted herein as examples) contains detailed factual allegations about this case: that the victim, Chloe Britt, died as the result of an accidental fall; that the victim’s autopsy made no reference to sexual assault; that the only binding factor in this case was anal dilation of the victim; that Mr. Havard requested a polygraph test; that Mr. Havard refused a plea agreement. Moreover, some of these letters are identical in their wording, leading the State to believe the writers are procuring their information from the same source.”
Our 2013 letter campaign led to a pathetic failed attempt by Jim Hood to seal Jeff Havard’s court records. You can read more about Hood’s desperate attempt here: http://wrongfulconvictionnews.com/mississippi-attorney-general-jim-hood-files-motion-attempting-to-seal-jeffrey-havard-case/
The state of Mississippi should listen to concerned citizens who have come forward in support of Jeff Havard. The state should listen to the facts. Please review the advocate’s letter to Mississippi Attorney General, Lynn Fitch which is posted below. The campaign is asking that you take a few minutes of your time to send Attorney General Fitch your own letter in support of Jeff Havard. You can use the letter provided or you can create your own. Please keep in mind that personal letters are a plus. When writing your own letter, please do not hesitate to include the factual information and links provided in the letter below.
You can contact Lynn Fitch by mail:
Office of the Mississippi Attorney General, Lynn Fitch
Attn: Attorney General Fitch
550 High Street, Suite 1200
Jackson, MS 39201
You can email Attorney General Fitch’s office directly: firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can call Attorney General Fitch’s office: 601-359-3680
You can respond on Attorney General Fitch’s Twitter account: https://twitter.com/LynnFitch.
Our letter to Attorney General Lynn Fitch from advocates for Jeffrey Havard:
Dear Attorney General Fitch,
We are writing to you about a horrific case of injustice that is ongoing in Adams County, Mississippi. This is a case involving a tragic accident, tunnel vision, junk science, false testimony, and prosecutorial misconduct.
The case we are referring to deals with the death of an infant. Please find it in your heart to take a few minutes to review this case of injustice.
In 2002, Jeffrey “Jeff” Havard was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death in Mississippi for the sexual assault and murder of his girlfriend’s six-month-old daughter, Chloe Britt. According to Jeff, Chloe slipped from his arms while lifting her from the tub after a bath, causing her head to hit a nearby toilet. New expert evidence supports Jeff’s claims. Advances in science now show that Chloe’s injuries were not the result of Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS), as suggested by the prosecution. Scientific evidence now shows that Chloe’s injuries were caused from a short fall. It is also important to note that the erroneous charge of sexual abuse has now been fully discredited by all experts in the case, including the prosecution’s expert.
The jurors who convicted Jeff were told of a horrific crime. They were told that Jeff Havard sexually assaulted Chloe Britt and then violently shook her to death. Prosecutors repeatedly told the jury that Chloe died from violent shaking, which has now been proven false. The state can claim that the SBS charge was based on bad science at the time, but there is no excuse for the accusation of sexual assault. That accusation was an egregious act of prosecutorial misconduct. The prosecution was told before trial by their expert, Dr. Steven Hayne, the state medical examiner who conducted the autopsy, that there was no evidence of sexual assault. The autopsy made no mention of a sexual assault. The prosecution withheld this evidence from the defense, never presented the autopsy at trial, and outright lied to the jury. The trial was dominated by the sexual assault accusation. Jeff was presented to the jury as a monster. He never stood a chance against the false charges.
In May of 2016, the Mississippi Supreme Court ordered an evidentiary hearing for Jeff’s case based on new scientific evidence related to SBS. Unfortunately, the court limited the scope of the hearing to SBS, which barred the defense from addressing the now fully debunked charge of sexual assault.
The evidentiary hearing took place in August of 2017, in the courtroom of Adams County Circuit Judge, Forrest Johnson. Johnson is the same judge who presided over Jeff’s trial in 2002. The 2002 murder trial was speedy to say the least. Within a matter of two days, the court selected a jury, tried the case, received the jury’s verdict, and sentenced Jeff to death.
To put things into perspective, Jeff’s evidentiary hearing took three days. The judge listened to testimony from four experts who testified for the defense, and also heard testimony from a pediatrician who testified for the prosecution. The hearing, which was limited to a single topic, and provided no immediate decision, took longer than the entire trial that landed Jeff on death row.
Judge Johnson waited over sixteen months to rule on the evidentiary hearing. Johnson’s report sided with the state. The report, which was less than five pages in length, made it clear that Johnson had put his own best interests ahead of his duties as a judge. Johnson lazily copied a majority of his skimpy ruling directly from previously written decisions. In doing so, he completely ignored compelling expert evidence presented to the court. Instead of taking new evidence into account, Johnson recycled provably false allegations that have been parroted by the state for years.
Judge Johnson falsely suggested that Jeff had given conflicting statements to police. Johnson also suggested that Jeff had confessed to injuring the infant, which is a ridiculous exaggeration of what Jeff actually told police in his statements. Johnson knows this of course, because he acknowledged in the original trial that Jeff had not confessed to any crime. Johnson embarrassed himself with his weak attempt to turn Jeff’s own words against him. The original trial transcripts are on record. Johnson does not have the power to rewrite history.
In a weak attempt to show impartiality, Johnson ordered that Jeff be resentenced in front of a jury, rather than reinstating Jeff’s previous sentence of death. Why would Johnson do that if he truly felt Jeff was guilty of raping and murdering an infant? Johnson’s ruling suggests that he was moved by the powerful evidence proving Jeff’s innocence, but he lacked the courage to do what was right. Johnson’s decision was self-serving because it was favorable to the state. The jury at the resentencing hearing only had two options to choose from; the death penalty or life in prison without parole. The state wanted this case to go away in a hurry. Locking up Jeff for life and forgetting about him worked just fine for them.
Multiple expert witnesses have come forward in support of Jeff Havard. The underlying felony of sexual assault, even though it was barred from discussion at the evidentiary hearing, has been refuted by every expert in this case. The felony murder rule no longer applies. We now know that the rule should have never been applied in the first place, because the state’s sole expert told the prosecution before trial that there was no evidence of sexual assault.
There are currently no experts, on either side, who support the claims that originally convicted Jeff Havard. That point alone should sound alarms.
Jeff Havard has now been in prison for nearly 17 years for a crime that never happened. Included with this letter, you will find affidavits from multiple experts who have testified under oath in support of Jeff’s innocence. You will also find affidavits highlighting the retractions from the prosecution’s only expert witness in the case.
Congratulations on becoming Mississippi’s new Attorney General. We are hopeful that you will review this case. Thank you in advance for your time.
Advocates for Jeff Havard
Information included with the letter:
Dr. Michael Baden
Dr. Michael Baden is a physician and board-certified forensic pathologist. Baden is the former Chief Medical Examiner of New York City and is the former chief forensic pathologist for the New York State Police. Baden is well respected worldwide for his work in this field.
Baden testified that he believed Chloe’s death had nothing to do with shaking. Per Baden, it is no longer accepted in the field of science that shaking alone is enough to cause fatal injury in children. Impact is now considered a requirement to produce fatal injuries, if other factors such as neck or rib injuries are not observed.
Baden stated that the injuries observed during the autopsy were entirely consistent with a blunt force impact which would have resulted from a short fall as described by Jeff.
Baden stated that the infant had no signs of injury to the neck or ribs, which would have been present had the infant been violently shaken. He went on to say that autopsy findings which are found to be consistent with early statements given from a person who was present show that those statements carry more weight. He said it is difficult to tell a story that later matches up with an autopsy report if you are not telling the truth.
Baden told the court that pathologists are more qualified than other specialties to diagnose cause of death. Per Baden, ER doctors and pediatricians specialize in the treatment of living patients. Pathologists have the task of looking beneath the surface of non-living bodies to properly determine cause of death. Evidence exists after death that his not available to doctors who are treating living patients. Please see enclosed affidavit for Dr. Michael Baden:
Dr. Janice Ophoven
Dr. Janice Ophoven is a pediatric forensic pathologist with over 30 years of clinical, administrative and quality improvement experience. Ophoven is trained in pediatrics and is board certified in pathology and forensic pathology. Ophoven’s practice is focused on understanding child abuse and injury to children.
Ophoven stated that no evidence exists to show that Chloe’s death was the result of child abuse. She testified that violent shaking alone was no longer an accepted cause of death in infants. Ophoven told the court that it was a common belief in the scientific world back in 2002 that short falls could not cause fatal injuries in children. She went on to say that the scientific community no longer believes that to be true. She made it clear that there have been significant changes in science regarding infant head injuries and Shaken Baby Syndrome since the time of Jeff’s trial.
Ophoven concluded that the infant’s death was the result of a short fall as described by Jeff. She also informed the court that pathologists are more qualified to determine cause of death than ER doctors and pediatricians. Please see enclosed affidavit for Dr. Janice Ophoven:
Dr. Chris Van Ee
Dr. Chris Van Ee holds a Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering from Duke University and is a licensed Professional Engineer. Van Ee has specific expertise in the analysis and risk assessment of head injury in the infant and adult populations.
Van Ee testified that a short fall was the most logical scientific reason for the death of Chloe Britt. Van Ee told the court that short falls are now known to cause injuries which were once thought to be caused only by violent shaking. Per Van Ee, a one-foot fall onto a carpeted surface head first has a higher chance of producing a head injury to a child than violent shaking. Van Ee testified that he reviewed photographs of the bathroom in Jeff’s trailer and determined that the fall described by Jeff could have caused fatal head trauma. Tests conducted by Van Ee using crash-test-dummies, concluded that a short fall from three-feet onto a hard surface such as a porcelain toilet could generate forces similar to a car accident which could lead to the death of a six-month-old infant. Please see enclosed affidavit for Dr. Chris Van Ee:
Dr. Steven Hayne
Dr. Steven Hayne was the only expert to testify during Jeff’s trial in 2002. Hayne is a former pathologist from the state of Mississippi. Hayne has a questionable history which has caused him to be barred from performing autopsies in Mississippi. Hayne completed upwards of 90% of the autopsies in Mississippi from 1987 through 2008. He was often called by prosecutors as an expert witness, and history shows that he has been willing to provide testimony favorable to the prosecution regardless of the facts. (Please see article from Investigative Journalist, Radley Balko.)
The testimony provided by Hayne was crucial to the prosecution’s case against Jeff Havard. Hayne conducted the autopsy on the infant.
Hayne did not find any evidence of sexual assault while conducting the autopsy, even though he was told to look for it. There is no mention of a sexual assault of any kind in the autopsy report.
Regardless of his findings, Hayne helped the prosecution when he testified that a contusion in the infant’s anus could have resulted from penetration with an object. Hayne also testified that the death was the result of Shaken Baby Syndrome. Hayne has now retracted both of those statements.
Shockingly, the defense learned in January of 2014, twelve years after Jeff’s conviction, that Hayne had looked at tissue sections under a microscope and found definitively that there was no evidence of sexual assault. In a case where suspicion of sexual assault only arose when ER doctors and nurses noticed what they believed to be physical evidence of sexual abuse.
ER staff observed that the infant’s anus was dilated and rushed to judgment. The ER staff was not qualified to give an opinion regarding sexual abuse. Every single staff member who provided a statement to police, made the same mistake when misdiagnosing the condition of the infant’s anus. It is a known medical fact that anal dilation is a common artifact in accidental deaths involving severe brain injury.
Hayne’s microscopic findings were clearly exculpatory, and would have positively shown that the doctors and nurses had misinterpreted what they saw. The state withheld this evidence from the defense as well and failed to tell the doctors and nurses about it before they testified.
Hayne’s statements in his affidavits and in his testimony state that he does not support a claim of sexual assault and that he no longer believes that Chloe died by shaking alone. He now believes that impact had to be a factor. Meaning that the infant could have died from a short fall as described by Jeff. Hayne bases his current beliefs on changes in science related to Shaken Baby Syndrome. Please see enclosed affidavits for Dr. Steven Hayne: http://www.freejeffreyhavard.org/Hayne7-14.pdf, http://www.freejeffreyhavard.org/Ex_A_-_Hayne_Affidavit.pdf
Dr. James Lauridson
Dr. James Lauridson is a former Alabama state medical examiner. In 2007, Mississippi’s post-conviction relief office obtained Lauridson to review the autopsy findings of Hayne. Lauridson concluded that the evidence failed to confirm that a sexual assault of any kind had taken place. There was no sign of any tears or lacerations in the infant’s anus and it was not out of the ordinary for dilation to occur naturally. Lauridson concluded that any conclusions that Chloe Britt suffered sexual abuse were not supported by objective evidence and were wrong. Please see enclosed affidavit for Dr. James Lauridson:
Dr. Scott Benton
Dr. Scott Benton testified for the state at Jeff’s evidentiary hearing in 2017. Benton was the only expert called by the state. Benton is the medical director of the Children’s Justice Center and chief of the division of forensic medicine at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.
Benton’s qualifications as an expert on issues of infant death were challenged by the defense because Benton is a pediatrician, not a pathologist. Both Baden and Ophoven provided clear reasoning in their testimony as to why pathologists are uniquely qualified to analyze cause of death. Judge Johnson noted the defense objection and said that he would take it into consideration when ruling on the case.
During questioning, Benton argued that shaking alone could prove fatal for an infant. His testimony ignored current scientific literature which states that shaking alone without other signs of injury is not enough to cause fatal injuries in children.
On cross-examination, it was discovered that Benton was not contacted by the state to evaluate the case. Benton’s participation was the result of his own eagerness to get involved. Benton contacted Jerry Mitchell from the Clarion Ledger because he had read a single article of Mitchell’s and had determined that the case was a homicide. After an email exchange with Mitchell, Benton’s further inquiries led to his work on behalf of the prosecution.
It was also discovered on cross examination that the Children’s Justice Center where Benton works was experiencing financial difficulties at the time due to a mismanagement of funds that were received from grants. The medical center benefited upwards of fifty thousand dollars for Benton’s testimony in this case. Please see enclosed deposition for Dr. Scott Benton:
Article from investigative journalist, Radley Balko: “Murder evidence evaporated, but Jeffrey Havard still sits in a Mississippi prison”.
This letter campaign is also featured in the Injustice Anywhere 2020 Spring newsletter.