Newly-Discovered Medical Evidence Lifts Daycare Provider’s Conviction for Fatally Shaking Baby

State of New York v. Bailey (2016)

by David S. Marshall

Daycare provider Renee Bailey has won a challenge to the reversal of her 2002 second-degree murder conviction for the death of a toddler who died while in her care. The State of New York appealed the 2014 order reversing Ms. Bailey’s conviction and granting her a new trial, but the appellate court agreed with Ms. Bailey that advances in medical science since her 2002 trial constituted newly discovered evidence that would have likely changed the original trial’s result.

Ms. Bailey’s Original Trial in 2002

Two-and-a-half-year-old Brittney Sheets was a child in Ms. Bailey’s care at the daycare she ran out of her home. One afternoon while Brittney was at the daycare, Ms. Bailey called Brittney’s father to tell him the little girl had fallen from a chair in the playroom and bumped her head while Ms. Bailey herself was in the bathroom. She asked Brittney’s father to come quickly, and when he arrived Brittney was unresponsive. Brittney’s parents rushed her to the pediatric intensive care unit, but she died the following day.

At trial, three medical witnesses testified that Brittney’s injuries could only have been caused by shaken baby syndrome, meaning she had been shaken forcefully by an adult. They dismissed the possibility that a short-distance fall from a chair 18 inches in height, as Ms. Bailey described, could produce the same results. The jury returned a guilty verdict, and Ms. Bailey was convicted of murder in the second degree.

New Medical Evidence on “Shaken Baby Syndrome” Grants Ms. Bailey a New Trial

Over ten years later, medical science on so-called shaken baby syndrome had advanced to the point where doctors were beginning to understand that violent shaking was not the only way young children could sustain these kinds of injuries. As a result, Ms. Bailey and her legal team asked the court to vacate her conviction, arguing that these advances in medical science proved Brittney’s injuries could very well have been caused by the short-distance fall Ms. Bailey originally described.

To vacate the conviction based on this newly discovered evidence, Ms. Bailey had to prove to the court that the new evidence, among other things, would probably change the result of a new trial. The court agreed that the new medical evidence would probably have this effect, and granted Ms. Bailey a new trial.

The State’s 2016 Challenge Fails

The State appealed this ruling, claiming that the evidence of new advances in medical science Ms. Bailey submitted did not constitute newly discovered evidence because it would not actually have changed the result of her trial.

The appeals court, however, rejected this challenge, confirming that Ms. Bailey’s legal team had shown “a significant and legitimate debate in the medical community has developed in the past ten years over whether infants and toddlers can be fatally injured through shaking alone, . . . and whether other causes such as short-distance falls may mimic the symptoms traditionally viewed as indicating shaken baby or shaken impact syndrome.”

Here, new research into the classic symptoms presented in so-called shaken baby syndrome cases demonstrated that these symptoms may also occur in short-distance fall cases. These findings supported the conclusion that, had this evidence been presented at Ms. Bailey’s trial, the verdict would probably have been different.

At the Marshall Defense Firm in Seattle, Washington, we defend those accused of shaking infants or otherwise abusing children. It is our privilege to do this in courts throughout Washington State and occasionally in other states.