COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – A man who has already spent nearly 20 years in prison will now get a retrial after his conviction was thrown out, according to the Ohio Innocence Project.
Arrested and charged in February 2002, a Franklin County judge last week overturned Alan J. Butts’ 2003 murder conviction for the death of his girlfriend’s 2-year-old son. Prosecutors blamed him for the toddler’s death because he was the last person with the boy, attributing the cause to Shaken Baby Syndrome.
The Ohio Innocence Project, whose lawyers work to free wrongfully convicted inmates, employed the services of the Center for Integrity in Forensic Sciences (CIFS) for Butts’ case. Katherine Judson, CIFS’s legal expert on Shaken Baby Syndrome, called Butts’ case one of 26 wrongful convictions tied to obsolete science on infant deaths.
“While this is an important step in the right direction, and, of course, life-changing for Alan and his family, far too many people remain behind bars because of this flawed and outdated hypothesis,” Judson said.
Doctors in the 1970s began attributing infant deaths from certain types of bleeding from the head to violent shaking, commonly known as Shaken Baby Syndrome or Abusive Head Trauma. They tied violent shaking to deaths where the child had little to no external signs of injuries, but would suddenly collapse. The Ohio Innocence Project said that medical experts know much more about the various underlying factors leading to these deaths than they did when a jury convicted Butts, and the new scientific understanding carries over to the legal field.
“This shift in understanding by the medical community raises a strong probability of a different result on retrial,” wrote Judge Jeffrey M. Brown, who made the call to throw out Butts’ conviction.
Despite science in 2003 claiming that the last person found with a baby thought to have died from Shaken Baby Syndrome was always the culprit, Butts has maintained he was innocent for the last 20 years. The Ohio Innocence Project said its team spent six days testifying with help from pediatric radiologists, pathologists, and neuropathologists on why Butts deserved a retrial. They highlighted medical facts overlooked in the case 19 years ago that could have caused similar symptoms as Shaken Baby Syndrome, including that the toddler suffered from pneumonia, a bleeding disorder, septic shock, and metabolic abnormalities.
Butts walked free from custody Thursday night, becoming the 37th client the Ohio Innocence Project said it freed in 20 years of operation. He was released on a $5,000 bond and will remain out of prison with GPS monitoring while he awaits a new trial, according to Franklin County court records.