Havard asks for new trial

Published 12:05 am Thursday, July 30, 2015

NATCHEZ — The Adams County man on death row for the 2002 death of a 6-month-old baby has officially asked the local trial court for a new trial.

Jeffrey Havard was convicted of capital murder committed during the commission of sexual battery in the February 2002 death of Chloe Britt.

Prosecutors said Havard shook her, causing Shaken Baby Syndrome, while Havard said the injuries that led to Britt’s death were the result of an unfortunate accident in which he dropped the baby while taking her out of the bath.

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Whatever the cause of the brain injury, the child died later that evening after she was found non-responsive and not breathing.

In the filing with the Adams County Circuit Court, Havard contends, “Newly discovered evidence of advances in scientific and medical fields since Havard’s trial demonstrates that the testimony presented at trial concerning Shaken Baby Syndrome is ill-founded and no longer supported by scientific and medical communities.

“In light of these circumstances, (Havard’s) conviction and death sentence violate due process and constitute a manifest injustice that this court is empowered to correct.”

At Havard’s trial, pathologist Steven Hayne — who performed Britt’s autopsy — testified that the baby’s injuries were consistent with Shaken Baby Syndrome.

In a 2013 affidavit, however, Hayne said recent advances in medicine demonstrate “that shaking alone could not produce enough force to produce the injuries that caused the death of Chloe Britt. The current state of the art would classify those injuries as shaken baby syndrome with impact or blunt force trauma.”

A second pathologist who has reviewed the case, Dr. Michael Baden, has also concluded that Britt’s death were consistent with “a short accidental fall.” Baden’s review also noted Britt did not have other injuries — such as to the neck, chest, spine and ribs — that are often associated with abusive shaking.

What made Havard’s case a capital offense was the alleged sexual battery that occurred at the time of the death, an accusation he has denied consistently for 13 years.

The autopsy notes a one centimeter contusion on the child’s body that Hayne testified at trial was “consistent” with sexual abuse, though at trial Hayne said it was one inch. In 2009, he gave a deposition reaffirming the one-centimeter measurement, and in the 2013 affidavit Hayne said he “found no definitive evidence of sexual abuse based on my findings.”

Havard’s filing quotes another pathologist, Janice Ophoven, as calling the sexual abuse allegations misinterpretations by “hospital personnel who did not have experience or expertise in post-mortem changes in infants.” The filing likewise notes that the rape kit associated with the case came back negative.

Havard filed his petition in Adams County Circuit Court in mid-June. The court issued an order to the state last Thursday to file a response to the request by Aug. 31.

Though he was initially prosecuted by the Adams County District Attorney’s Office, the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office — which has served as the prosecuting attorney since the case was initially appealed — has filed a notice that it will serve as the opposing party in the matter.

The court has not decided if a new trial will be granted.

Havard received permission from the Mississippi State Supreme Court to seek a new trial in March.