Webster Parish Mom’s Appeal Denied After New Forensic Testimony
The Louisiana 2nd Circuit Court of Appeal in Shreveport affirmed a trial court's ruling in denying Brittany Tyson's application for post-conviction relief. Tyson had raised claims of actual innocence and ineffective assistance of counsel.
Tyson entered a guilty plea in 2013 to Manslaughter as part of a plea deal, and is serving a 20-year sentence in the shaking death of her four-month-old son. However in court documents, multiple experts have called the cause of the baby's death into question.
In July of 2013, Webster Parish authorities responded to the Southwood Apartments in Sibley where they found Tyson's baby unresponsive in a playpen. The child was not breathing, and was pronounced dead.
Authorities took Tyson into custody, and began interviewing and interrogating her right away. During the interrogation, one of the investigators told Tyson that her baby exhibited "coffee ground" appearance in his eyes, which is consistent with a shaking death in babies. Authorities say that Tyson confessed to shaking her baby that night.
Tyson faced First of Second Degree Murder charges in the case. However she eventually agreed to plea to the lesser charge of Manslaughter in the case.
In February of 2014, Tyson was sentenced to 20 years in prison as part of a plea deal, and did not appeal that sentencing at the time.
Since then, Tyson has filed appeals in the case, while under new representation. Included in the appeals are contradictory reviews from three forensic experts on the autopsy of Tyson's baby. The original autopsy was performed by Dr. Frank Peretti in Little Rock, Arkansas, which was called into question through Tyson's appeals.
According to Tyson's appeal documents, Dr. L.J. Dragovic is a forensic pathologist and neuropathologist in Oakland County, Michigan, Dr. John Plunkett, and Dr. Harry Bonnell is a forensic pathologist who had been the Chief Deputy Coroner and Director of Forensic Pathology of Hamilton County, Ohio all challenged Dr. Peretti's findings. All three of these other doctors testified that Dr. Peretti was not a board-certified forensic pathologist, and contradicted the autopsies findings in multiple ways. Some of the doctors asserted that the signs of a shaking death did not exist in Peretti's autopsy report.
In Dr. Harry Bonnell's testimony on Peretti's autopsy of Tyson's baby, he stated:
"it was scientifically impossible for there to be no hemosiderin yet have positive iron stains in the same area as described in the autopsy"
Dr. Plunkett's testimony also concluded there was no structural damage that would have caused death shown in Peretti's autopsy report. Dr. Dragovic's testimony was also critical of the conclusions in Peretti's autopsy report. Court documents of Dr. Dragovic's testimony say Dragovic:
"...considered Dr. Peretti’s finding in the cervical spine at C1 of hemosiderin deposits while iron stains were negative to be nonsensical because the two findings are mutually exclusive."
However, even with the new testimony from the new forensic medical experts, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeal in Shreveport affirmed the denial of Tyson's appeal.