A judge has overturned the conviction of a woman who has spent 15 years in prison for the murder of a child. Estela Rosa Jimenez has always insisted she is innocent and did not receive a fair trial.
The judge’s new ruling means Jimenez may get a new trial where she will finally be able to use constitutional rights denied her the first time around.
99-year sentence after a one-sided trial
In 2005, Rosa Jimenez was 19 years old and baby-sitting a 21-month-old boy. She says she was preparing lunch when she found him no longer breathing.
Without delay, she began trying to save the boy and called for help. The boy was dead, having choked on a wad of five sections of paper towel. Doctors found no other reason to suspect abuse, but authorities arrested her and charged her with murder.
During her trial, prosecutors argued it was impossible for a child to accidentally swallow the paper towels.
Jimenez’s court-appointed attorney did not request and the court did not provide money to hire qualified children’s doctors as witnesses. Instead, the only expert witness for her was unqualified and unprepared.
The jury found Rosa guilty and she began serving a 99-year prison sentence.
Original judge calls for a new trial
In more recent years, in part aided by the Innocence Project, Jimenez has appealed the verdict in court.
New testimony included views of experts in children’s airways and in finding how people have died. They agreed the boy probably swallowed the towels on his own and pointed out that the original expert witness had himself said he did not know the field well.
Even the judge for the original trial called for a new trial, saying there is a “substantial likelihood” that Jimenez is not guilty.
In October, the new judge found that the trial 15 years ago denied Jimenez’s constitutional right to have qualified expert witnesses testify for her and that a new jury should hear a more complete version of the story.