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.
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.