Havard files federal petition, claims trial was flawed

Published 12:08am Tuesday, April 9, 2013

NATCHEZ — More than 10 years after he was convicted of killing a 6-month-old child, death row inmate Jeffrey Havard has filed a petition in federal court asking for relief of his conviction and sentence.

Havard maintains he’s innocent and that his initial trial in Adams County was flawed.

The case began Feb. 21, 2002, at Havard’s residence, which he shared with his girlfriend, Rebecca Britt, and her infant daughter, Chloe.

In Havard’s court filing, he claims that while he was giving the baby a bath, she was slippery and that he dropped the baby with her head hitting a toilet in the bathroom. When the baby appeared to be in shock, Havard shook her in a panic to revive her, and he stopped and began to comfort her after she began to cry. Dressing her after becoming convinced she was OK, he placed the baby in her bed.

Later, Rebecca would find Chloe blue and not breathing, and the two drove her to Natchez Community Hospital.

While medical personnel were trying to revive the baby, a nurse seeking to take her temperature using a rectal thermometer noticed Chloe’s anus was dilated, and law enforcement was called on the suspicion that sexual abuse had occurred.

An autopsy by the former state pathologist, Steven Hayne, concluded that Chloe had died of a “a combination of closed head injury and changes consistent with Shaken Baby Syndrome.”

Havard was tried and convicted in December 2002 on charges of capital murder during the course of sexual battery.

Now, Havard alleges the way the trial was structured — he says it was in part based around investigators and prosecutors asking him to explain the dilation on the child’s body — should not have happened.

“The burden was improperly placed on me to explain their predicate for why they thought there was sexual battery,” Havard said in an interview from Mississippi State Penitentiary.

“As a layperson, how am I supposed to explain something that I have no clue (about)? State law, federal law — all applicable law — and the medical field say child sexual abuse is a specialized field.

“I don’t know how I could have explained something as a layman that medical literature and (the) law states only an expert can do.”

Havard likewise said that he would not have been convicted if Chloe’s autopsy had been published to the jury. The autopsy notes a one-centimeter contusion on Chloe’s anus, but doesn’t mention a suspicion of sexual battery.

In a November 2010 deposition about the case, Hayne told questioners, “There was one injury that I indicated would be consistent with the penetration of the anal area, but that, in and of itself, I didn’t feel was enough to come to a conclusion that there was a sexual assault in this particular death.”

The hospital personnel who treated Chloe did, however, testify at trial that they saw “rips and tears” on the baby’s body. Havard said the hospital personnel were not qualified under the law to speak about the specialized field of sexual abuse, and if they were they were not properly tendered as such during the proceedings.

“The (emergency room) staffs were allowed to say things that were expert opinions. The only person who was tendered to give expert opinion — (Hayne) — was never asked to give his opinion.”

District Six District Attorney Ronnie Harper said the autopsy was never published to the jury because the defense would have likely objected and prevailed against its introduction.

“(The autopsy) is like a police report,” Harper said. “You call the witness, but you can’t introduce the police report. “

And while the hospital personnel who testified at the trial were not tendered expert witnesses, Harper said they weren’t giving expert testimony.

“I think that what they testified to would be admissible,” he said. “They were testifying to their own personal observations.”

The district attorney said he intended call the same witnesses again if the matter is given a second trial.

“If the court takes the position that they couldn’t testify about certain matters, that certainly would be controlling, but I don’t necessarily agree that would be a problem,” Harper said.

Since Havard’s trial, Hayne’s work and testimony in a myriad of Mississippi court cases have come under scrutiny. Hayne was removed from the state’s list of approved pathologists in 2008, and a number of inmates have since filed petitions claiming they were wrongfully convicted on his testimony.

In the amended filing, Havard included a report written in mid-March by forensic pathologist Michael Baden, the former pathologist for New York City. In the report, Baden states that he reviewed Chloe’s medical records and autopsy and the testimony that was given at trial. Baden’s conclusion is that Chloe’s death was “entirely consistent with a short fall and not with an abusive shaking” and that “there is little evidence to support that Chloe sustained a severe, violent, abusive shaking.”

Baden’s report also states that the testimony about the anal injuries were “premature.”

“The anus can dilate in a coma or after death, and any anal abrasion could be due to innocent causes, such as constipation or diarrhea,” Baden wrote. “If the child was deceased prior to arriving at the hospital, the anal dilation seen by doctors at the hospital and in the autopsy could have been natural changes in the body upon death.”

Baden concluded, “From my analysis, Chloe was not sexually assaulted, and she died of injuries consistent with an accidental drop.”

Beyond the evidence and claims of improper prosecution, Havard said he was given ineffective legal representation at trial.

Harper said his office is optimistic and confident there were no errors in the case, and the federal courts will see that.

“We understand that there are no givens in this business, so we are prepared whatever the outcome,” he said.

  • concerned redneck

    They should have chopped his testicles off and squirted him full of the death juice when he walked out of court

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000046529522 Cheryl Havard Harrell

    Thank you Vershal Hogan, finally the truth is coming out about the wrongful conviction of my son.As for as the autopsy goes,it was NEVER presented at trial because IT DOES PROVE HIS INNOCENCE. The autopsy does show that there was NO sexual assault or NO sexual abuse, it NEVER happened. This is why it was never presented to the jurors at trial, there was NO evidence against him that would prove otherwise, it states that the body (was UNREMARKABLE),therefore the state would not use this key piece of EVIDENCE. As far as a new trial, if this was to happen then we (the supporters) believe that it will be hard for the state and their witnesses to go up against the 2 pathologists that have concluded in their findings that Jeffrey is INNOCENT of this conviction.Their findings outweigh the witnesses at trial because they are not CERTIFIED to make such a conclusion as they testified too.If the state believes that they can take the testimony of the witnesses that were not tendered or certified over Dr.Lauridson ( Alabama pathologists) and World Reknowned Dr.Michael Baden (New York) pathologists then we all know that this is truly a wrongful conviction,Anyone can check out their predentials, It is shameful that the state has allowed the family to believe all these years that this happened, there was NO crime EVER.This was a mere accident as stated by the pathologists. The only person that was certified at the trial was Steven Haynes ( MS ex-pathologists) now. He has since come under fire about his job duties with the state of MS. He NEVER stated that this was a sexual assault or abuse in his conclusion, therefore this is why the autopsy was not presented. The state needs to admit that they made a mistake at convicting my son of this charge, because NO crime EVER happened. The state should admit to this, and do the right thing, I believe that they owe this to the family.

  • Anonymous

    He will be correctly judged later and dealt with before God guilty or innocent. In any case this was a terrible thing for all concerned.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Kelly.A.Thompson93 Kelly A. Thompson

    Educate yourself about this case. Be informed before you speak because Jeffrey Havard is INNOCENT!

  • http://www.facebook.com/lori.howard.946 Lori Howard

    This case must surely be the shame of Mississippi! I find Harper’s comment about the autopsy report laughable. Jeff Havard would have been ecstatic if that report had been introduced as evidence, because it confirms his claims. That report says not one word about a possibility of sexual abuse. It says the child’s body was “unremarkable” but for the closed head injury. I have read it, along with the trial transcripts. Kangaroo Court was in session. Ronnie Harper is shaking in his suit right now. He has done a great disservice to the Britt family by allowing them to believe that Chloe died scared and in pain, which he knows is an outright lie. He has also done a great disservice to Jeffrey Havard. I can’t wait for YOUR day of reckoning, Mr. Harper….and it’s coming around soon enough.

  • http://www.facebook.com/lori.howard.946 Lori Howard

    You need to read the case file before you make a “guilty or innocent” comment. If you want to speak to this case in an intelligent manner, you must educate yourself. All information is available on Pacer or http://www.freeheffreyhavard.com. No offense intended and it is certainly a terrible thing.for all..

  • Anonymous

    I did not say he was guilty or innocent. I believe we will all be judged before the supreme one someday. No offense to you intended.

  • http://www.facebook.com/lori.howard.946 Lori Howard

    Sure, I understand what you meant. Was just asking you to look at the case, as it is Havard’s innocence that is glaringly evident. I agree that we will all be judged when the time comes, but whatever else Havard may have done in his life, I do not believe he will earn condemnation in this instance. It seems clear this was a terrible accident.