Doctors consider and discuss magnetic resonance image (MRI) of the brain.

The now widely discredited theory of Shaken Baby Syndrome is based on certain markers seen in brain scans.

by Michelle Waters
Santa Clara University School of Law


Thanks to new scientific knowledge about Shaken Baby Syndrome, a man wrongfully convicted in 2002 of killing his 4-month-old daughter has had his conviction reversed after spending nearly 17 years in prison.

The San Francisco law firm Keker, Van Nest & Peters and the Northern California Innocence Project (NCIP) at Santa Clara University School of Law brought forth the new evidence, which reflects updated knowledge about the causes of Shaken Baby Syndrome and the risk of parents improperly being charged with murder in cases of household accidents.


From left: Pro-bono attorney Khari Tillery, NCIP attorney and Assistant Clinical Professor Paige Kaneb, and client Zavion Johnson. Image source.

The California Superior Court of Sacramento reversed Zavion Johnson’s murder conviction, which occurred when he was 18 years old. In what he has always claimed was a tragic accident, Johnson’s daughter, Nadia, slipped from his arms and fell in the bathtub while Johnson was bathing her. She later died from internal injuries.

Despite 15 witnesses including Nadia’s mother, testifying that Johnson was a loving, caring father, medical experts at the time cited the then-medical consensus that the only possible explanation for Nadia’s injuries and death involved Shaken Baby Syndrome.

Jurors called the medical evidence “overwhelming,” and sentenced him to life in prison, even though, as one juror recollected, they “felt that Zavion Johnson was a good young man, very loving to his girlfriend and their baby girl, and that it would seem horribly out of character for him to murder his baby.” The juror went on the say, “without that evidence, we certainly would not have convicted Zavion Johnson.”

Using modern science, medical experts, including the original pathologist that testified at Johnson’s trial, have since reviewed the case. The experts agree that Nadia’s injuries are consistent with the fall originally described by Johnson 17 years ago and they can no longer say it was abuse.

According to Khari Tillery, a partner at Keker, Van Nest & Peters,

“the expert medical testimony presented at trial has been undermined and there is now medical consensus that an accidental short fall onto a hard surface can cause this type of head injury.”

He went on to say, “while nothing can give him back the 17 years he spent in prison for a crime he did not commit, we are grateful to the Court and the prosecutor for recognizing this injustice.”

Now, awaiting his release, Johnson is planning his life outside of the prison walls he has called home for half of his life. “I’m hoping for a positive future – for my life to begin.” While nothing can bring back his daughter, or the time he has lost, he looks forward to finally being able to grieve and build a life.

“Zavion is one of the most gentle, caring, and thoughtful people I have ever met and society will be a better place the moment he re-joins it,” said NCIP attorney Paige Kaneb.

Read the full story at the Santa Clara University School of Law

See Also:

University of Michigan Law School Awarded $250K to Learn How to Defend Shaken Baby Syndrome Cases

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Opens the Legal Door to Retry All Shaken Baby Syndrome Convictions

World Renowned Neuropathologist has Career Destroyed for Disproving Shaken Baby Syndrome

Swedish Health Agency Rejects “Science” of Shaken Baby Syndrome

Is Shaken Baby Syndrome Often Misdiagnosed and Caused by Vaccine-Induced Rickets?