(Austin, TX – February 3, 2020) Today, five Travis County state representatives sent District Attorney Margaret Moore a letter urging her to carefully review and consider Innocence Project client Rosa Jimenez’s case for innocence. Jimenez was convicted of murder in 2005 for the death of a 21-month-old child in her care who fatally choked on a wad of paper towels. Jimenez has always maintained her innocence, and leading experts in pediatric choking have shown this was a tragic accident – not murder.
Representatives Donna Howard, Gina Hinojosa, Celia Israel, Vicki Goodwin and Sheryl Cole signed the letter voicing their support for Moore to further review this case, stating, “While the death of any child is tragic, a miscarriage of justice will only widen the circle of pain.” Distinguishing Rosa’s case as “extraordinarily unique,” the lawmakers called upon Moore to conduct “additional review to ensure that an innocent person does not linger in state custody.”
Leading pediatric airway specialists have reviewed the forensic evidence in Jimenez’s case to conclude that she is likely innocent and that the jury heard inaccurate or misleading information during her trial. Invalid expert testimony, like that used to convict Jimenez, is a leading cause of wrongful convictions.
The letter also referenced the opinions of four judges, the Hon. Jon Wisser, Hon. Charlie Baird, U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew Austin and U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel, who have all concluded that Jimenez is likely innocent. The lawmakers closed by imploring the DA to do the right thing, stating: “Ms. Jimenez’s continued imprisonment, despite significant evidence of her innocence, harms not only Ms. Jimenez and her family, but also the public’s confidence in our justice system.”
The support of these elected officials underscores the extreme circumstances that Jimenez, now 37, is facing. Jimenez has recently been diagnosed with stage four kidney disease and cannot receive a kidney transplant while incarcerated. Without a transplant, she could die in prison while waiting on the state’s appeal of the federal court’s grant of habeas relief. If a retrial continues, it could take years for legal proceedings to begin – time that Jimenez does not have. The legislators told Moore that “instances like this rise to the level of challenging us all to do what is humane.”
At her 2005 trial, the singular issue in question was whether it was possible for the child to have accidentally choked. Jimenez’s trial counsel failed to present qualified experts to counter the state’s faulty testimony that it was impossible for this to have been an accident. Evidence obtained post-conviction shows the falsity of the state’s experts’ opinions on which Jimenez’s conviction was based.
“When top pediatric airway and critical care experts from John Hopkins and the Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania review the case and conclude not only that this could have been an accident, but there’s no support for it being intentional, it’s time for the state to take another look at the facts and medical evidence and act to correct this injustice. January 30 marked Rosa’s 17th year of imprisonment for a crime she did not commit,” said Vanessa Potkin, Jimenez’s attorney and Innocence Project’s director of post-conviction litigation.
“What Rosa has suffered is unbearable,” continued Potkin. “Her daughter was one and nursing when Rosa was arrested. Her son, who she gave birth to in jail a few months after her arrest, was taken from her as soon as he left the womb. They are now 17 and 18 years old. Rosa has been separated from her children practically their entire lifetimes all because faulty expert testimony erroneously turned an insufferable accident into a crime.”
This past October, Judge Yeakel overturned Jimenez’s murder conviction and ordered a new trial based on Jimenez being denied her constitutional right to a fair trial. At her 2005 trial, the state presented testimony that it was impossible for the child to have choked accidentally. Her trial counsel failed to present qualified experts to counter this faulty testimony. Judge Yeakel’s decision is grounded on the earlier recommendation of Judge Austin issued in September 2018.
Jimenez is represented by the Innocence Project which is affiliated with Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University, is a national litigation and public policy organization dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted people through DNA testing and reforming the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice.