A high-profile “shaken baby case” has ended with California Governor Jerry Brown commuting the sentence of the woman convicted of shaking her grandchild to death.
In December 1997, Shirley Ree Smith, was convicted of shaking her 7-week-old grandson, Etzel Dean Glass III, to death. Prosecutors argued that she lost her temper on Nov. 30, 1996, when the baby began to cry in her Van Nuys home. Smith insisted that the child fell off the couch and hit his head.
Following her conviction, Smith served eight years and six months of a 15-years-to-life murder sentence. She was freed in 2006 after the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit overturned her conviction, finding “no demonstrable support” for it.
Last year, however, the U.S. Supreme Court last year reinstated Smith’s conviction and ordered sentence to be reinstated as well. Still, the justices said that doubts about whether Smith was guilty were understandable, and that her case might be appropriate for clemency “to help ensure that justice is tempered with mercy.”
This afternoon, Brown commuted her sentence.
According to PBS, the governor’s decision – which follows recent revelations regarding the forensic evidence used to prosecute the case – means Smith will not return to prison to continue serving a sentence of 15 years to life for felony child endangerment, a charge equivalent to second degree murder.
“From my review of the information before me, including materials from the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office, it is clear that significant doubts surround Ms. Smith’s conviction,” stated the governor in his order commuting the sentence.
Brown also noted that Smith had already served an extended period in prison and had been “law-abiding” since her release as reasons to grant her clemency.
USA Today notes that Brown’s decision was his first sentence commutation since he became governor again in 2011. He granted only one other during his first two terms as governor, from 1975 to 1980.
As for Shirley Ree Smith, after her release from prison, she remained in Los Angeles and at one point was homeless. She eventually chose to leave the state and live with her daughter in Minnesota.
She has no plans to return, her attorney Michael J. Brennan said.
“Her family is in the Minnesota area and she will stay there,” Brennan said. “This place was not a very pleasant experience for her.”
CBS News writes that shaken baby syndrome has come under increased scrutiny in recent years. A 2011 investigation by NPR, PBS Frontline and ProPublica examined cases where someone was convicted of killing children by shaking but later had their convictions overturned. The investigation found “questionable autopsies and testimony, as well as disputes over medical evidence” in the cases.
Readers speak your mind: Do you think that Governor Brown did the right thing in commuting Shirley Ree Smith’s sentence?
via USA Today