Michael Stier, the forensic pathologist working for the Dane County Coroner’s Office, who performed the autopsy on 4-month-old Lincoln Wilber, now says he can no longer say that abuse was the only plausible cause of the child’s death.  Stier testified at Jennifer Hancock’s trial that brain bleeding was “a marker for [a] non-accidental type of injury”, but now says that he believes other causes including natural could have killed the infant.  Hancock, a daycare worker, was convicted of first-degree reckless homicide and sentenced to 13 years in prison. The Wisconsin Innocence Project is working on her appeal.

In 2007, Lincoln Wilber was rushed to the hospital after falling limp at his day care. Doctors discovered bleeding on the brain. An X-ray showed a fracture to his left leg and another scan revealed what appeared to be a skull fracture. All of these symptoms are often suspected as abuse.  Jennifer Hancock, then 36, was the main suspect. During an 8-day trial in 2009, medical experts testified that Lincoln was killed by shaking (shaken baby syndrome), a controversial forensic science. No testimony carried more weight than Dr. Steir’s.

5 years later, a series of interviews with Stier reveals that he can no longer stand behind his opinion in the case,

“I want to make sure that something I did, did not lead to an injustice,” Stier said.

Five other experts have also said that there are several explanations for Lincoln’s death and even if it were abuse, it is doubtful that Hancock was the abuser.  New evidence was recently uncovered by Northwestern University Medill Justice Project students working in collaboration with the Wisconsin State Journal, which showed that medical experts – who were not called to testify at trial, but who provided their opinions for free – said that Lincoln suffered a blood clot or previous head trauma that began bleeding again.  They disagreed on the timing of the bleeding raising questions about how it could be linked to the five and a half hours Hancock was caring for him.  The 4-month-old also was suffering from a heart virus, which Stier and another expert now believe could have played a role in his death.

Carrie Sperling, co-director of the Wisconsin Innocence Project, said the new theories about Lincoln’s death are significant and could be enough to cause “reasonable doubt”.

Hancock’s appeals have so far been denied.

Dane County Assistant District Attorney Thomas Fallon, one of two prosecutors in the case, declined to comment citing the ongoing appeals and his ethical obligation not to engage in pretrial publicity. Fallon serves on the advisory board for the National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome.  Lincoln’s parents stated that the case was “not something we want to talk about”, but insisted that Hancock was guilty and that she was just “telling stories.”

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  1. […] Jennifer Hancock has been in jail for 5 years, convicted in the death of a 4 month old baby in her care. The recanting of 4 experts in the case shows the unsettled science of “shaken baby syndrome”. It was once thought that a set of certain symptoms in the brain of a dead child were iron clad evidence of shaken bay abuse. Now doctors and scientists have scuttled the notion of shaken baby syndrome and have discovered other various explanations for the symptoms. This leaves numerous convictions where shaken baby medical testimony is the only evidence in doubt. READ MORE… […]

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