Bridget Lee came within metaphorical inches to being convicted of murdering her baby. A baby that was not, in fact, murdered. It was stillborn.
Alabama authorities plan to review as many as 100 past forensic cases by a medical examiner whose botched autopsy of a baby led a judge to throw out a murder charge against the mother.
Circuit Judge James Moore on Thursday dismissed the case against Bridget Lee, a 34-year-old church pianist who spent nine months in jail after being charged with her child's death in 2006. An initial autopsy found that the baby was suffocated.
And on that basis Lee, a mentally ill woman who appears to have panicked on giving birth to a dead baby under less than ideal circumstances, was charged with murder. Lee's decision to hide her stillborn baby, rather than taking it to a hospital or the police, was foolish indeed.
But worse than foolish was the handling of forensic investigation by medical examiner Corinne Stern. Dr. Stern turned a case of prenatal pneumonia into strangulation and suffocation.
Evidence during the hearing showed six different forensics experts found the baby died of pneumonia caused by an infection and was stillborn. What Stern thought were bruises were actually signs of decomposition.
I don't even play a doctor on tv, but I have enough passing familiarity with the science to venture that, perhaps, the doctor didn't perform a proper autopsy at all. The judge seems to agree.
The judge said in 30 years of law practice he had never seen an expert make a mistake so bad. He praised District Attorney Chris McCool for listening to a defense expert who raised the first red flags about the flawed autopsy.
"What has happened in this courtroom today is absolutely unprecedented," said [Alabama Circuit Judge James] Moore.
One hopes that Judge Moore is referring to the autopsy, rather than the prosecutor's decision to to re-examine the evidence and drop the charges, but in either case, it was commendable on the part of McCool.
Now, will prosecutors in the other Alabama cases on which Dr. Stern worked be so open-minded, or will they treat them as do their neighbors in Mississippi?