Dec. 14, 2005, 1:45PM
Mom's conviction thrown out on baby death
Brandy Briggs remains in prison on a 17-year sentenceBy DALE LEZON
Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle
Texas' highest criminal court has thrown out today the conviction of a Harris County woman who was sentenced to 17 years in prison after pleading guilty in connection with her infant son's death.
Citing "deficient performance" by the defense attorney, the state Court of Criminal Appeals ordered Brandy Briggs' case returned to Harris County, where prosecutors must decide whether to try her again or drop the charges.
District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal said today that his office will have to review the evidence before making a decision. No timetable has been set yet for her return to Houston.
Briggs, who remains in prison, was 19 when she was charged with murder in the death of her 2-month-old son, Daniel Lemons. She ultimately agreed to plead guilty to injury to a child.
Briggs later said that defense attorney Richard Anderson had been ineffective and had told her a guilty plea would result in probation. State District Judge Mary Lou Keel concluded that Anderson had represented his client effectively, however, and that Briggs had entered her plea voluntarily.
But in its ruling today, the appeals court said Anderson "did not reflect reasonable professional judgment" in failing – for financial reasons – to develop evidence concerning the baby's medical history.
Anderson could not be reached for comment this morning.
The appellate judges concluded that Anderson's performance affected Briggs' decision to accept a plea agreement. They added that, if the evidence had been developed and Briggs had gone to trial, "it is highly likely that a jury would have returned with a 'not guilty' verdict . . . ' "
The baby, who had a birth defect, died at Texas Children's Hospital in Briggs' arms on Mother's Day, May 9, 1999, as family members listened to his final heartbeats on a monitor. He was 60 days old.
It later was revealed that, after Briggs had called 911 and the baby was taken to Lyndon B. Johnson General Hospital, a breathing tube was incorrectly inserted into his stomach rather than his lungs. The lack of oxygen caused brain death, according to county Medical Examiner Dr. Luis Sanchez.
The death originally was listed as a homicide, however, after an autopsy by Dr. Patricia Moore.
Briggs' appeal hinged partly on the fact that Moore, who later left the Medical Examiner's Office, had been admonished by supervisors who thought she showed a bias in favor of prosecutors in an unrelated case.
Sanchez changed the "homicide" ruling to "undetermined" after reviewing the autopsy.
Briggs' case was one of at least two in which Sanchez revised autopsies conducted by Moore. In March this year, prosecutors dropped a case against Ruth Ann Gilliam, who had been accused of causing her child's death.
While overturning Briggs' conviction, the Court of Criminal Appeals added, "We cannot ignore (her) guilty plea in 2000 . . . "
Briggs told Judge Keel in 2000 that she had found her baby limp and barely breathing in his crib. She said she panicked and shook him.
Sanchez later testified, however, that Daniel had not suffered blunt trauma and had no signs of abuse or shaken baby syndrome.
Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal said today that his office will have to review the evidence before deciding whether to prosecute Briggs again. No timetable has been set for returning her to Houston and she remains in prison.
|Dr. Patricia Moore
||False Child Abuse Allegations||Junk Science|