By ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS Associated Press
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — An Ohio woman who has spent nearly two decades in prison on charges of killing a baby in her care could be released as soon as Thursday after new evidence in the “shaken baby syndrome” case led to charges being dropped.
The evidence now shows that the injury that killed the 9-month-old girl in the care of Kim Hoover-Moore happened days before Hoover-Moore noticed problems with the baby in her home day care in 2002, according to a court filing requesting a new trial.
Hoover-Moore, 57, was convicted at trial the following year based on a coroner’s assessment that the child, Samaisha Benson, had shaken baby syndrome.
Then, earlier this year, a former deputy Franklin County coroner signed an affidavit indicating that a new analysis showed evidence of an older, undetected injury that could have led to the bleeding that killed the child.
Based on the new review, “I cannot conclude at the present time that pathologically the injuries suffered by Samaisha definitely occurred within the time window that Ms. Hoover-Moore was in charge of her care,” Dr. Patrick Fardal wrote in a Feb. 18 affidavit. “The acute changes all occurred within a 4-5 day window before her death.”
Fardal declined to comment Thursday.
Franklin County Judge Carl Aveni granted the new trial request, vacated Hoover-Moore’s conviction and ordered her immediate release.
Franklin County Prosecutor Gary Tyack previously represented Hoover-Moore and recused himself. A different prosecutor dismissed all charges “in the interest of justice.” The prosecutor and defense attorneys agreed in a court motion that the evidence at the time was sufficient to prosecute Hoover-Moore.
An attorney for Hoover-Moore said Thursday that justice had been done after 19 years.
“The medical evidence proves what Ms. Hoover-Moore has always said: She is innocent,” Joanna Sanchez, director of the Ohio Public Defender’s Wrongful Conviction Project, said Thursday.
Hoover-Moore’s attorneys believe the case might be the first exoneration in Ohio involving a shaken baby conviction, according to data compiled by the University of Michigan’s National Registry of Exonerations.
Nationally, shaken baby convictions have come under scrutiny as new evidence challenges the diagnosis, with multiple exonerations. In April, a California man was freed after 15 years in prison after prosecutors and a judge agreed that the scientific research underlying shaken baby syndrome has changed significantly in recent years.
The infant’s father dropped the girl off at Hoover-Moore’s Columbus home on Nov. 29, 2002, according to Hoover-Moore’s June motion for a new trial by attorney Kort Gatterdam.
After seeing the baby couldn’t hold her head up and wasn’t breathing properly, Hoover-Moore called 911. The baby was taken to the Columbus Children’s Hospital where she was treated and diagnosed with shaken baby syndrome based on a CAT scan showing a skull fracture and internal brain bleeding. The girl died Dec. 1, 2002.
Following a 2018 request for a new trial, Hoover-Moore’s attorneys were able to access the victim’s medical records, radiology images and autopsy reports, and a new analysis found evidence of an injury weeks or even months old.
Hoover-Moore’s motion for a new trial also included police reports referring to domestic violence involving the infant’s parents, among them a case in which the father struck the mother while she was holding another child, and in which the father shook that child to quiet her.
The new testimony indicates that, “rather than the medical evidence pinpointing Ms. Hoover-Moore as the only possible perpetrator, any number of people who had access to Samaisha in the weeks or months before her death could have been responsible for her fatal injuries,” according to the filing.
A message was left with a phone listing for Samaisha Benson’s mother.