Wisconsin State Journal

Judge denies new trial in shaken-baby case


March 29, 2007

The Waunakee day-care provider convicted 10 years ago of shaking an infant to death will not get a new trial, Dane County Circuit Judge Daniel Moeser decided Thursday.

The ruling came after Moeser heard testimony from medical witnesses about whether 7- month-old Natalie Beard died of injuries inflicted by Audrey Edmunds or from another cause, including an accident, old injury or illness. Roughly two dozen Edmunds supporters crowded the courtroom through four days of evidentiary hearings in January and February.

In seeking a new trial, Edmunds, who is represented by the Wisconsin Innocence Project, argued medical research done since her conviction in 1996 raises doubt about how Natalie died. Innocence Project attorney Keith Findley called Thursday's decision "very sad for Audrey, sad for her children and sad for her community of supporters."

The 45-year-old mother of three has been imprisoned for a decade since being convicted of first-degree reckless homicide. Edmunds, who will reach her mandatory release date in two years, will appeal Moeser's decision, Findley said.   

The baby died on Oct. 16, 1995, after collapsing at Edmunds' Waunakee home. Assistant District Attorney Shelly Rusch said the defense was unable to adequately explain all of the injuries to Natalie's head and eyes, which prosecution experts testified were indicative of shaken-baby or shaken- impact syndrome.

"There is no other medical explanation" for her death, Rusch said.

But Dane County forensic pathologist Dr. Robert Huntington III said he no longer stands by his original testimony that it was "highly probable" the child was injured during the hour she was in Edmunds' care and that such injuries would've been immediately apparent to anyone caring for Natalie.

Moeser wrote that while most of Edmunds' medical witnesses were persuasive, the medical experts called by prosecutors Rusch and Mary Ellen Karst "effectively countered the defense experts' theories and possible explanations." A key witness for the prosecution was Dr. Alex Levin, an ophthalmologist and pediatrician from the University of Toronto. Levin said medical research since Edmunds' conviction actually has strengthened the case for shaken-baby syndrome, rather than weakened it.

What it came down to, Moeser said, was whether there was a "reasonable probability" that a new jury, hearing the evidence presented earlier this year and in 1996, would've reached a different verdict. He determined it would not, adding that "Edmunds' performance on the witness stand (in 1996) ... brought her credibility into question."

"When all the new evidence is added to all the evidence at trial - not just the medical evidence - the prosecution's case is just as strong, if not stronger, than it was at the original trial," Moeser said.

Findley said that a decade ago, there was little medical controversy about whether and how babies were injured by shaking. In the past few years, several convictions in shaken-baby cases have been overturned in the U.S and abroad after judges heard from medical experts disputing shaking as a cause of death.

Moeser acknowledged the justice system's ability to get at the truth isn't foolproof.

"The system is not perfect. If a defendant is convicted it does not necessarily mean that there is a 100 percent certainty of guilt," Moeser wrote. "Likewise, if a defendant is acquitted it does not necessarily mean that there is a 100 percent certainty of innocence."

Edmunds supporter Michelle Urso of Waunakee said she believes one thing is true: "There is no doubt in my mind that there is an innocent woman sitting in jail. Not a single doubt."

"I would trust her like I trust my mother," Urso said. "When I have children, she will be on my list of babysitters."

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