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Mississippi Death Row Inmate Jeffrey Havard Is a Victim of Wrongful Conviction

Jeffrey Havard currently sits wrongfully convicted on death row in Mississippi for the sexual assault and murder of his girlfriend’s six-month-old daughter, Chloe Britt. Chloe’s death was a tragic accident, not a murder. Havard accidentally dropped Chloe after giving her a bath. According to Havard, Chloe slipped out of his hands and hit her head on the toilet. The evidence in the case supports his claims.

Jeffrey’s life would change forever when he and his girlfriend Rebecca brought Chloe to the hospital on the night of her fall. Chloe appeared to be okay when the accident first occurred. Her mother checked on her once in her bed and she appeared to be doing fine. When Chloe was checked on again, she had taken a turn for the worse. Chloe was having trouble breathing and was turning blue. It was at this time that Jeffrey and Rebecca brought Chloe to the hospital.

Several hospital workers that examined Chloe, noted in the emergency room and would later testify that her anus was dilated, indicating sexual abuse. Dr. Steven Hayne conducted the autopsy on Chloe. Hayne determined that Chloe’s death was the result of shaken baby syndrome. Hayne noted a one centimeter anal contusion while performing the autopsy but did not elaborate on this finding in his report.

This information was all the prosecution needed to secure a conviction. The testimony of the hospital staff along with Hayne’s finding of an anal contusion was proof enough to the court that sexual abuse took place. Mississippi law allowed the prosecution to argue that the sexual abuse led to the murder. In the court’s view, if Havard committed the abuse, he must be guilty of the murder.

Havard asked the court during his trial to provide the means to hire an independent expert to review Hayne’s findings, but the court denied his request stating that Hayne was well qualified. The court neglected to to take into account that Hayne was not a certified pathologist when assessing his qualifications. Since the time of Havard’s trial, Hayne has been discredited for submitting faulty work on multiple cases and no longer performs autopsies in Mississippi.

Without the ability to challenge the evidence presented by the prosecution, Havard was convicted and sentenced to death. After his conviction, Mississippi’s post-conviction relief office obtained the services of former Alabama state medical examiner Dr. James Lauridson to review the autopsy findings. 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 Chloe’s anus and it is not out of the ordinary for dilation to occur naturally. Lauridson noted that there was no trace of Havard’s DNA found on or inside Chloe. He also noted that a thermometer inserted into the Chloe’s anus at the emergency room could have caused the small bruise.

When appealing to the Mississippi Supreme Court, Havard’s attorneys presented Lauridson’s report, along with medical literature stating that postmortem anal dilation in infants is common and does not suggest sexual abuse. This information seemed to backfire on Havard when the court noted that Chloe’s anal dilation was discovered  in the emergency room before death. The suggestion that dilation would only occur postmortem was false but the information would not be clarified until it was too late.

It was disturbing to see the Mississippi Supreme Court completely ignore Lauridson’s report. The court concluded that Lauridson’s analysis should have been included at trial. Their conclusion was a slap in the face for Havard. As we know, Havard was not allowed the opportunity for an independent review during his trial because his request was denied by the court. The sad truth is that Havard now sits on death row because he did not have the means to hire his own expert

At The Clarion-Ledger’s request, Dr. Michael Baden agreed to review the evidence that secured Havard’s conviction. Baden is a physician and board-certified forensic pathologist that is well respected worldwide for his work in this field. According to Baden, the anus can dilate in a coma or after death (proving that the conclusions reached by the appeals court regarding the dilation were incorrect ), and the anal abrasion could be due to innocent causes, such as constipation, diarrhea or rubbing up against a diaper.
According to Baden, the injuries detailed in the autopsy were consistent with injuries caused by head trauma from Chloe being accidentally dropped, hitting her head on the toilet just as Havard had described.
Baden concluded that Chloe “was not sexually assaulted and that she died of injuries consistent with an accidental drop.”
Baden also disagreed with the finding of shaken baby syndrome. Baden stated: “There is no autopsy or scientific evidence to support a diagnosis that Chloe died of shaken baby syndrome.”
Baden has stated that he is more than willing to testify on Jeffrey’s behalf if he is granted a new trial.

Hayne now clarifies that no sexual assault took place

The Clarion-Ledger has reported that Hayne has now acknowledged errors in his original report. Hayne told Havard’s attorneys the bruise could have been caused by a rectal thermometer like the one used in the emergency room. Hayne said he did not think it was likely but it could not be excluded. Hayne now states that the dilated anus would be a normal occurrence with patients lacking significant brain function. Most importantly Hayne now believes the bruise was not sufficient to determine  that a sexual assault occurred.
Testimony from Chloe’s mother contradicts her pre-trial statements
Chloe’s mother, Rebecca Britt, testified during the first trial that Havard never changed Chloe’s diapers and never gave her baths. Britt’s testimony was devastating to Havard because it gave the jury the impression that Havard’s actions on the night of the murder were suspect.
Thankfully Havard’s attorneys discovered that Britt’s pre-trial testimony had been recorded. As it turned out, Britt’s initial statement contradicted her trial testimony. Britt told authorities early on that Havard loved Chloe, and that he changed her diapers and gave her bottles. During the interview, Britt was not surprised at all that Havard gave her daughter a bath. The jury never heard Britt’s pre-trial statements.
When presenting this information on appeal, Havard’s lawyers argued  that his previous counsel was ineffective because they failed  to challenge Britt’s testimony. The court disagreed, stating: “There is no reasonable likelihood that Britt’s testimony, if false, affected the judgment of the jury.” How could the court possibly conclude that Britt’s testimony had no affect on the jury?
Jeffrey made an unfortunate mistake on the night of the accident. After he dropped Chloe, he dried her off, dressed her, and put her in bed for the evening. Chloe was responsive and Jeffrey thought she was okay. Chloe needed medical attention immediately after her fall and looking back on the situation we now know that neglecting to have her examined was a mistake. Chloe’s non visible injuries would later cause her death. In a recent interview with The Clarion-Ledger, Havard stressed his remorse for accidentally dropping Chloe:“Not a morning, noon or night passes that I don’t think about Chloe and her family. Words can’t describe how sorry I am for dropping Chloe. Without a second thought, I would do anything to bring her back.”
Jeffrey never intended to hurt Chloe. Her death was a tragic accident. The truth in this case is now clear. Jeffrey Havard is not guilty of murder and must not be put to death for a crime he did not commit.
Time is running out for Jeffrey Havard. The Mississippi Supreme Court recently  ruled against  his second motion for post-conviction relief  stating: “There is no merit to Havard’s claim that newly discovered evidence exists that supports his innocence. This issue is procedurally barred by time.”
Jeffrey Havard’s case will now be heard by a federal court. Mississippi needs to be told that it is not okay to put a man to death with no evidence to support guilt. The reasoning that the court is procedurally barred by time is absurd. Does the court really care more about time restrictions than it does about the life of another human being?

Please visit www.freejeffreyhavard.org to learn more about Jeffrey’s case.