EvidenceProf Blog

Editor: Colin Miller
Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

WVU Law Professor Valena Beety Secures New Trial For Stepfather Convicted in Shaken Baby Syndrome Case

According to an article in the Charleston Gazette-Mail

After serving 11 years of the 40-year prison sentence he was handed in 2005, a Hampshire County judge threw out [Jeremiah] Mongold’s conviction in connection with the death of his 2-year-old stepdaughter

This ruling came after Hampshire Circuit Judge Charles Parsons

found that Mongold’s trial counsel, Romney attorney Larry Sherman, was “extremely lax in his investigation” and committed “grievous error” on matters related to the pertinent evidence in the case. 

Parsons ruled that “by any objective standard of reasonableness trial counsel performance was substantially deficient” and “that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel’s errors, the result of the proceedings would have been different.”

As with Cristina Gutierrez in the Adnan Syed case, this deficient performance was not limited to one case. Instead,  

Sherman has had 45 complaints filed against him with the West Virginia Office of Disciplinary Counsel, which oversees lawyers in the state, and...11 of those complaints were filed during the time he was representing Mongold

The West Virginia College of Law Innocence Project attorneys for Mongold are law professor Valena Beety, adjunct faculty member Melissa Giggenbach, and 2016 West Virginia  graduates Jenny Thoma and Lia Deane. Long-time readers might recall that I did a review of Beety's terrific essay, The Case of Trayvon Martin and the Need for Eyewitness Identification Reform, in a post back in 2012.

Mongold's case, however, does not involve eyewitness identification. Instead, it involves shaken baby syndrome, a diagnosis that is increasingly being called into question.

According to the Charleston Gazette-Mail article.

Mongold was convicted of, and now stands charged with, child abuse resulting in death based on prosecutors’ arguments that the child died from shaken baby syndrome.

Beety said, though, there is evidence to prove that the toddler actually died from vasculitis, a rare illness that causes the body to attack its own blood cells. 

“The basic diagnosis of shaken baby syndrome has been widely challenged in the 10 years since Jeremiah was convicted,” Beety said.... 

On Tuesday, according to Beety, Hampshire Prosecuting Attorney Dan James said during a status hearing that prosecutors were looking into medical experts’ opinions on vasculitis being the cause of death.

“I said to the court, ‘Well that’s great news and that may mean we don’t even have a trial,’” Beety said. “That’s really important and I appreciate that he is looking at experts in that area, because I believe it will confirm what our experts have found — that the girl died by vasculitis.” 

“If their experts do find that, it would be unconscionable for him to do anything but drop the prosecution,” she said

It will be interesting to see whether there is a changed diagnosis in this case, similar to the ones that I noted in my post back in April.

What's also interesting is that I have been notified of a new documentary on the subject: "The Syndrome." Researched by investigative journalist Susan Goldsmith and directed by her cousin Meryl Goldsmith, the documentary

follows the crusade of a group of doctors, scientists, and legal scholars who have uncovered that “Shaken Baby Syndrome,” a child abuse theory used in hundreds of U.S. prosecutions each year, is not scientifically valid

Among the scholars are Deborah Turkheimer, another great law professor, who has published, Flawed Convictions: "Shaken Baby Syndrome" and the Inertia of Injustice. The documentary has gotten great press, and I hope to catch up with it soon.



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