County of Conviction: San Diego
Convicted of: Second Degree Murder
Sentence: 15 to Life
Year of Conviction: 1992
Years Served: 24
On June 25, 1991, after an emergency C-section, Alan Gimenez and his wife became proud parents of a baby girl who they named Priscilla. Immediately after she was born, it was apparent that Priscilla was a sick child. Nurses aspirated thick yellow mucous from Priscilla’s mouth almost immediately. Due to the lengthy birthing process before the emergency C-section, doctors suspected Priscilla may have swallowed amniotic fluid that contained feces and may have even had pneumonia. Doctors ordered a spinal tap, took blood and urine samples, and, after a chest x-ray showed retained fluid and a healing fractured rib, administered two antibiotics. She was also placed on 100% oxygen for the first two days of her life, but taken off the oxygen on the third day. Nevertheless, Priscilla’s treating doctors were unable to identify a specific cause for her problems.
Upon her release from the hospital and upon early discontinuation of the antibiotics, Priscilla started showing symptoms of fever. Within weeks, she was suffering from projectile vomiting and seizures. Her parents brought her to the hospital, but no tests were performed; she was released with instructions to the parents to cut down her formula, feed her upright, and to burp her after feeding her every few ounces. On August 7, 1991, Priscilla again vomited and demonstrated seizure activity while Alan fed her. Alan called 9-1-1 and administered CPR. Responding paramedics witnessed Priscilla having another seizure.
Doctors conducted numerous tests on Priscilla in an attempt to determine the source of her problems. Blood tests showed Priscilla had anemia. A spinal tap (used to detect blood in the spinal column) came out bloody. Priscilla had “oral thrush” (a yeast infection) in her mouth and a fresh tear of the tissue under her tongue likely caused by the seizure. She also appeared to have a clotting problem that prevented the “drawing” of her blood. Additionally, doctors discovered Priscilla’s mother had Hepatitis A. Despite these test problems, doctors could not pinpoint what, exactly was causing the projectile vomiting and seizures. Nevertheless, Priscilla was released from the hospital only three days after being admitted.
Hours after her release, while Alan was attempting to feed her, Priscilla vomited forcefully and again exhibited seizure activity. Alan gave Priscilla phenobarbital as recommended by Dr. William Lewis (a neurologist from Children’s Hospital who had prescribed the medication for her seizures). Alan called Dr. Lewis who recommended Alan take Priscilla to the emergency room. The hospital conducted a CT scan on which the radiologist noted the healing rib fracture and, for the first time, bleeding in Priscilla’s brain. Numerous additional blood tests were performed to assess Priscilla’s anemia and she received three blood transfusions. She was also given a coagulopathy screening which confirmed she suffered from severe blood clotting issues. The following day, the hospital conducted another CT scan and inserted a surgical bolt in Priscilla’s head. Later that day, Priscilla concluded her brief life at the hospital. She was just 49 days old.
As if losing a child in the horrific manner wasn’t bad enough, in 1992, a jury convicted Alan of murdering Priscilla. And even worse, many of the medical problems mentioned above were either not disclosed to the defense at trial, or the defense attorney failed to discover them. Instead, prosecution experts testified that Alan must have shaken Priscilla to death. The Medical Examiner testified that he found a subdural hematoma (blood within the outer layer of the brain), retinal hemorrhages (bleeding behind the eyes), and a swollen brain. He believed this “triad of findings” to be “diagnostic of Shaken Infant Syndrome [SBS].” His report concluded, “in the absence of a reasonable explanation for [her symptoms], the cause of death is considered Shaken [Baby] Syndrome [SBS].” At the time, the medical community believed the “triad of symptoms” was distinctly characteristic of violent shaking.
What the Medical Examiner did not know was that the hospital had tissue slides proving that Priscilla’s retinal hemorrhages occurred after she was hospitalized. Further, since Priscilla’s death, the notion that this triad of symptoms proved SBS has been almost entirely discredited. With the benefit of medical studies and advances, researchers now understand that these symptoms do not prove that the baby had been violently shaken. Indeed, research has shown that one cannot shake a baby to death absent head injury and/or neck injury (whiplash). Priscilla had neither type of injury. Finally, current forensic evidence now shows that Priscilla died of medical conditions, not from shaking.
Alan was released on parole in 2015 and continues to fight to clear his name.