January 30, 2012: Testimony in death row inmate's trial contradicted
by Jerry Mitchell
JEFFREY HAVARD REMAINS ON DEATH ROW — convicted of a crime that one expert says may not have happened.
In 2002, he told deputies he accidentally dropped 6-month-old Chloe Madison Britt after giving her a bath and that the 26-pound baby hit her head. He denied sexually abusing her.
If the Mississippi Supreme Court rejects his post-conviction plea, the 33-year-old inmate will move one step closer to execution.
The baby's mother, Rebecca Britt, told The Clarion-Ledger, "I feel like I should be able to go in there and kill him - save the taxpayers' money."
But after examining the autopsy report at The Clarion-Ledger's request, world-renowned pathologist Dr. Michael Baden of New York City said he doesn't believe a sexual assault or a homicide took place.
The allegation of sexual abuse arose after Britt found her baby wasn't breathing on Feb. 21, 2002. She and Havard rushed Chloe to Natchez Community Hospital.
Chloe was lifeless and blue when she arrived, according to medical records. Her pupils were fixed and dilated.
A nurse noticed the baby's anus was dilated to the size of a quarter, and law enforcement was contacted.
Under questioning, Havard told deputies Chloe had slipped from his arms and hit her head on a toilet tank. He said he thought she was going to be OK and was afraid to tell Britt when she returned.
At trial, two doctors testified the anus was not normal and was indicative of sexual penetration, with one mentioning bleeding. Both testified they observed a tear of the anus, but pathologist Dr. Steven Hayne said he found no tears in his autopsy.
He testified Chloe had bruises to the back of her scalp, forehead and nose; a torn frenulum under her tongue; and suffered a brain hemorrhage. There were also bruises to the front of her left and right thighs, he said.
The pathologist testified the death was a homicide, consistent with shaken baby syndrome.
He also testified there was also a 1-inch anal bruise "consistent with penetration of the rectum with an object."
The Adams County jury convicted Havard and sentenced him to death.
In his appeal to the state Supreme Court, his attorneys shared medical literature that read: "Postmortem anal dilation in infants is a commonly recognized artifact that does not signify sexual abuse."
In their 7-2 decision, justices, however, sided with the state's lawyers, saying, "Chloe's dilated anal sphincter was discovered while Chloe was in the emergency room and still alive."
Since then, Hayne has acknowledged in a sworn statement that dilated anal sphincters also may be seen "on a person prior to death without significant brain function."
The anal contusion Chloe had "could have a variety of causes, and is not sufficient in and of itself to determine that a sexual assault occurred," he said.
He said the autopsy alone can't prove sexual abuse.
A rape kit conducted at the time found no evidence of semen.
Baden said the anus can dilate in a coma or after death, and the anal abrasion could be due to innocent causes, such as constipation, diarrhea or rubbing up against a diaper. A small amount of blood can occur naturally for other reasons, he said, adding any significant amount of blood would have been noted in the autopsy.
The injuries detailed in the autopsy "are entirely consistent with injuries caused by a head impact from the baby accidentally being dropped and striking her head on the toilet tank as (Havard) described," Baden said.
On the basis of the report, he said he believes the baby "was not sexually assaulted and that she died of injuries consistent with an accidental drop."
Baden disagreed, also, with the finding of shaken baby syndrome. "There is no autopsy or scientific evidence to support a diagnosis that Chloe died of shaken baby syndrome," Baden said.
At trial, Britt testified Havard "didn't spend much time with her (Chloe). I mean, other than being at the house after day care, he didn't really go out of his way to do things with her."
Jurors, however, didn't hear her earlier statement to deputies in which she said of Havard's relationship with Chloe: "He loved her."
She also said it wasn't unusual for Havard to give Chloe a bath. "He's always doing bottles for me or cleaning up while I'm taking care of her," she said.
Havard maintains his attorneys at trial failed to adequately represent him. For instance, they didn't call day care workers, who gave written statements they saw no evidence Chloe had ever been mistreated or abused.
District Attorney Ronnie Harper remains convinced Havard is guilty, saying proof of sexual assault was overwhelming. "I had doctors crying on the witness stand," he said.
He said he's "never seen a guy look more guilty" than Havard did in his videotaped statement.
Havard's attorney, Graham Carner of Jackson, wrote that his client invited Britt and Chloe to live with him in his mobile home near Natchez after he saw "drug dealing and other dangerous conditions at Rebecca's prior residence. ... In the following weeks, Jeffrey, in many ways, cared for Chloe as if she was his own child."
In an interview with The Clarion-Ledger, Britt disputed she had been living where there was drug dealing, saying she had been living with a single man but didn't want her baby around the drinking.
She said she wasn't living with her brother, Billy, whom she acknowledged was arrested for manufacturing methamphetamine.
She has no doubt Havard abused her baby, she said. "He was the only one there. He claimed there was no sexual abuse. Why was her anus the size of a quarter?"
In her 2002 statement, Britt told deputies Havard had taken a bath after the baby.
But when asked about this by The Clarion-Ledger, she insisted she knew nothing about this. "I was told that," she said.
Havard's sister, Paige Sullivan, recalled her brother comforting Chloe when she cried. "He would hold the baby and sing to her," she said. "He even fell asleep with her on his chest."
She believes he is innocent of any sexual abuse and shudders to think he is still behind bars. "We know he dropped the baby," she said. "We're not saying he is totally innocent, but he's been in there for 10 years. It's very heartbreaking.