From the 5th April to the 27th April 2022, I will be running 5k every day - bringing it to a total of 5k a day for 22 days (just for context - it has been roughly two years since I last ran 5k!) This is to raise money for a trip to Mississippi this summer to work on Tasha's case on the ground.
Why 22 days? 22 is the number of years for which Tasha Shelby has been wrongfully imprisoned after being convicted of capital murder by a jury in 2000.
On the 30th of May 1997, two-and-a-half-year-old Bryan Thompson IV was taken to hospital where he was later pronounced dead. Immediately, doctors identified him as having suffered blunt force trauma to the head and turned to blame the adult that was caring for him last - Tasha Shelby. These doctors, having been taught that shaken baby syndrome was a real diagnosis, viewed Bryan's injuries as having been caused by Tasha shaking him.
The prosecution gathered a team of doctors who had also been taught the same thing and they testified about shaken baby syndromes' perceived legitimacy. The jury, convinced by this, found Tasha Shelby guilty of capital murder without parole, narrowly avoiding the death penalty.
However, Tasha Shelby's conviction was based on science that has since been disproven and never had any foundation to begin with.
In 2015, Dr Riddick, one of the prosecution's medical experts, re-examined the evidence and made an affidavit explaining that he changed his mind and no longer believed Bryan had been shaken. Instead, he highlighted evidence that showed Bryan had been suffering from a seizure condition that caused the head injuries that had been confused for those required for a shaken baby syndrome diagnosis.
Dr Riddick then changed the death certificate from 'homicide' to accident, with reference to the seizure condition.
There are other reasons why Bryan could not have died from shaking. One is that his injuries did not meet the 'triad' of injuries required for a shaken baby syndrome diagnosis. The 'triad' requires that all three injuries (subdural haemorrhage, retinal haemorrhage and hypoxaemic encephalopathy) be presented in order to diagnose. However, Bryan did not have any retinal haemorrhaging.
In addition, it's impossible to imagine a woman such as Shelby, two weeks after giving birth to baby Devon by cesarean section, as having enough strength to inflict the injuries that Bryan suffered.
Ultimately, our main reason for rejecting Bryan's cause of death as shaking is because of the fact shaken baby syndrome is no longer considered good, proven science.
Guthkelch’s work in the 1970s, which originally set out the shaken baby syndrome diagnosis, fails to meet the requirement of the scientific method. He provides no evidence for the fact of shaking being indicated, let alone proven, by the triad. Forty years later, Guthkelch himself observed that there was still no evidence for the hypothesis, as he expressed horror that it had been used as established science to imprison parents or to take away their children.
A wealth of papers have since come out that reveal the lack of evidence for shaken baby syndrome. Instead, these works demonstrate that it is impossible for a person to generate enough force to inflict these injuries upon a baby by shaking, even car crashes struggle to meet enough force to satisfy the 'triad'.
- Duhaime, 'The Shaken Baby Syndrome: A Clinical, Pathological, and Biomechanical Study' (1987) - “It is our conclusion that the shaken baby syndrome, ……is not usually caused by shaking alone. ……it is more likely that such infants suffer blunt impact"
- Jones, 'Development of a computational biomechanical infant model for the investigation of infant head injury by shaking (2015) - “no study has to date demonstrated that shaking alone, without an associated impact, exceeds the injury thresholds associated with [subdural haemorrhaging]".
- Fuchs, 'Cervical spine fractures sustained by young children in forward-facing car seats' (1989) - “High cervical spine injuries sustained by five children less than 2 years of age while in forward-facing car seats are described" but, despite whiplash at high force, no triad injuries present.
- Geddes, ‘Neuropathology of Inflicted Head injury in Children’ (2001) - undermined two of the central tenets of shaken baby syndrome.
- Geddes and Plunkett, ‘The evidence base for shaken baby syndrome’ (2004)
- Ommaya, Goldsmith, and Thibault, ‘Biomechanics and neuropathology of adult and paediatric head injury’ (2002) - proved that the maximum force a person can shake a baby with is not enough to create head trauma.
- Why I Changed My Mind - Series 4 - Waney Squier - BBC Sounds - hear former shaken baby syndrome believer, Dr Waney Squier, describe why she changed her mind after looking at the evidence.
Despite all the overwhelming evidence that both proves Tasha's innocence and the falsehood of shaken baby syndrome, her appeals have been unsuccessful. Tasha, and parents and carers worldwide facing similar wrongful convictions, are being denied justice.
Please help us prove Tasha's innocence and help secure her freedom.
Astrid, my case partner, and I have been examining Tasha's case for almost a year. We have compiled all the evidence we can on this side of the ocean.
We have been assisted by members of Tasha's legal team, those closest to Tasha, and other extremely generous Mississippians who share our wholehearted belief in her innocence.
Now, all we need is funding to pay for flights, travel and transport, rent, and other living costs for our two month trip to Mississippi.
Whilst we are over there, we plan to build on the evidence and investigation plan we have compiled to put together a plea for clemency or find another way to exonerate her.
We will interview key witnesses, including her family, friends, and those who knew her at the time, medical experts, on both sides of the shaken baby syndrome divide, and the jury.
We are incredibly passionate about providing Tasha with the justice and freedom that has been denied from her for 22 years. We hope you share in our passion and consider donating to our fundraiser.
Read a report published earlier this year that my case partner and I co-authored on shaken baby syndromes prevalence in British courtrooms.