What is Shaken Baby Syndrome? 25 YEARS on mom still in prison despite doctor admitting wrong diagnosis

Tasha Mercedes Shelby was sentenced to life in prison with no chance for parole when she was 25 after the death of her 2-year-old stepson

What is Shaken Baby Syndrome? 25 YEARS on mom still in prison despite doctor admitting wrong diagnosis
Tasha Mercedes Shelby is now filing a new petition in the US District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, asking a federal judge to dismiss her case (YouTube/InvestigateTV)
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BILOXI, MISSISSIPPI: Tasha Mercedes Shelby has been advocating her innocence in the death of her 2-year-old stepson for decades after she was sentenced to life in prison with no chance for parole when she was 25. On June 1, 1997, Shelby woke up to a loud thud and found the toddler unresponsive on the ground. She argued that her stepson had suffered a seizure but the medical examiner in Harrison County labeled the toddler's death a homicide. Years later, the cause of the death was officially changed but Shelby remained behind bars. 

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Former Mississippi state medical examiner Dr Leroy Riddick testified in 2017, changing his initial statement. As per Fox 5, Dr Riddick said, "I made a mistake on my conclusions and that given the information I have now, that the child died from hypoxic encephalopathy with herniation due to a seizure disorder." Hypoxic encephalopathy with herniation means the child suffered a case of lack of blood and oxygen to the brain. Dr Riddick also changed the cause of the toddler's death to an accident in 2018. Subsequently, Shelby's attorney Valena Beety filed a petition in the US District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, urging a federal judge to dismiss Shelby’s case.

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Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch has opposed the appeal. Shelby had no prior criminal record when she was sentenced to life in prison without parole after Dr Riddick testified the child died from a blunt force trauma caused by shaking. Beety argued, "No one shook this child. No one abused this child. The jury was relying on the wrong information. Beety explained that Riddick testified in numerous cases during his long career before he died two years ago and never changed his statement, making Shelby's case an exception. 

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You can read the appeal here.

What is shaken baby syndrome?

As per Mayo Clinic, the syndrome is a serious brain injury resulting from forcefully shaking an infant or toddler. Other words for this syndrome are - abusive head trauma, shaken impact syndrome, inflicted head injury, or whiplash shaken infant syndrome. It essentially destroys a child's brain cells and prevents their brain from getting enough oxygen, which can lead to permanent brain damage or death. 

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Dr Riddick changed the cause of death to accident in the 2-year-old boy's death certificate in 2018. (YouTube/InvestigateTV)
Dr Riddick changed the cause of death to accident in the 2-year-old boy's death certificate in 2018 (YouTube/InvestigateTV)

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The change in Dr Riddick's testimony comes on the back of new scientific opinions. He said, "Severe seizures that are lasting for a period of time, that the brain stem is shut off, and you don’t breathe and then you get hypoxia ... If you don’t get enough oxygen to your brain, then you die." National Registry of Exonerations previously reported that many defendants were falsely convicted on the flawed diagnosis. Shelby currently waits for the federal court to rule on her case.

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