We send a huge congratulations to the Arizona Justice Project for their latest exoneration of Drayton Witt. In 2002, Drayton was convicted of the second degree murder of his 4-month-old son, Steven, by shaking him to death. Drayton was convicted by expert witnesses who relied on supposed Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS). The experts at trial concluded Steven had the “SBS triad” of symptoms which are a subdural hematoma, retinal hemorrhages, and cerebral edema, to show that Drayton must have shaken his son to death because the “SBS triad” symptoms are often noted by doctors when examining children who have been abused.
However, witnesses failed to take into account that the baby was born with the umbilical cord wrapped tightly around his neck, had aspirated meconium (fecal matter), and was in respiratory distress. After birth, Steven even suffered from pneumonia and seizures. With Steven’s many medical problems, he was constantly going to the doctor and often taken to the hospital because his eyes would lose focus, he would vomit often, and he had reoccurring fevers. Steven was never a healthy baby. Even with his numerous medical problems, Steven never had any cuts, bruises, fractures, dislocations, or spinal cord injuries. Irrespective of his obviously complex medical history, Drayton was still convicted of killing Steven because he was the only adult with him at the time of seizure that ultimately caused his death. Drayton was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Drayton served 10 of his 20 year sentence in prison until The Arizona Justice Project exonerated Drayton by using the most recent research on SBS. They contacted A.J. Mosley, the medical examiner who testified in Witt’s 2002 trial. Mosley recanted his trial testimony by saying, “There is now no longer consensus in the medical community that the findings I reported in my autopsy report are reliable proof of SBS [shaken baby syndrome] or child abuse . . .Steven had a complicated medical history, including unexplained neurological problems. He had no outward signs of abuse. If I were to testify today, I would state that I believe Steven’s death was likely the result of a natural disease process, not SBS.”
As I have written before, the research surrounding the “triad” of SBS symptoms has received much criticism in recent years. Even though these symptoms may exist, the entire medical history must be taken into account when determining whether the death was from natural causes or a homicide. Drayton Witt always claimed he loved and would have never have hurt his son. The Arizona court agreed Drayton did not cause his son’s death when the case was dismissed with prejudice. “With prejudice” means the state can never bring charges against him related to the We applaud the efforts of the Arizona Justice Project and the ability of the Arizona court to recognize an injustice when it occurs. We continue to be hopeful this new research will allow similar cases to be analyzed by the courts to determine whether this flawed testimony convicted other innocent men and women.
For more information on the triad of SBS symptoms, please read this insightful entry on the Wrongful Convictions blog.