(Austin, TX – September 11, 2018) United States Magistrate Judge Andrew Austin has issued a report recommending that the murder conviction of Estela Rosa Jimenez be vacated because she was denied her constitutional right to present qualified medical experts at her trial in August 2005.
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For more than fifteen years, Ms. Jimenez has maintained her innocence and that the death of a 21-month old child in her care was a tragic accident and not murder. Experts who testified at an earlier hearing in the case (but not at trial) agreed, and Judge Austin found that if Jimenez had been allowed to present qualified medical experts, there is a reasonable likelihood that she would not have been found guilty.
“Any time a person stands convicted of a crime she did not commit, a significant injustice has occurred. If Ms. Jimenez is not guilty of these crimes, the injustice is particularly acute.”
Judge Austin’s concerns about Jimenez’s innocence mirror concerns of the Travis County judge who presided over the original trial and the state appellate court judge who conducted the hearing with the new medical experts. Attorneys for Jimenez brought the current habeas petition in federal court after the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied her state habeas petition, refusing to adopt the recommendations of the judge who heard from the experts and recommended that the conviction be vacated.
“Judge Austin’s thoughtful and thorough opinion explains that the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals unreasonably denied Ms. Jimenez’s her constitutional right to have a jury hear from qualified medical experts who would have told her jury that there was zero evidence that Ms. Jimenez murdered anyone and that the child’s choking was a tragic accident,” said Bryce Benjet, a senior staff attorney with the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law. “As we have throughout these proceedings, we must recognize terrible tragedy suffered by the child’s parents through his loss. But Ms. Jimenez’s wrongful conviction has simply added to this catastrophe.”
In reaching his decision to recommend the conviction be vacated, Judge Austin wrote:
Any time a person stands convicted of a crime she did not commit, a significant injustice has occurred. If Ms. Jimenez is not guilty of these crimes, the injustice is particularly acute. At the time of her arrest Rosa Jimenez was only 20 years old. She had a one-year-old daughter who was still nursing. She was also seven months pregnant. She spoke minimal English, and the only family she had in the United States was her equally-young husband. The record does not reflect what happened to her baby daughter when she was arrested, or who took custody of the child she delivered in jail. But those children are now 15 and 16 years old. If in fact Jimenez is not guilty of this offense—something both the trial and habeas judges appear to believe and for which there is much evidence—the injustice done here is indeed profound. It is this type of injustice that the Great Writ is meant to prevent, and the issuance of that writ here is well-warranted.
Judge Austin’s recommendation will now be reviewed by Federal District Judge Yeakel who will consider any objections by the parties. The case may then be appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Just as erroneous science has been a significant problem in medical malpractice and other tort cases, invalid expert testimony, like that used to convict Jimenez, is a leading cause of wrongful conviction.
“We encourage the Travis County District Attorney and the Attorney General of Texas to review the facts of this case and to act to remedy this miscarriage of justice by dismissing the charges and allowing Ms. Jimenez to finally go home to her family,” added Benjet. “On behalf of Ms. Jimenez, I want to thank the President of Mexico Enrique Pena Nieto, the Mexican Government and the Government of the State of Mexico for their steadfast support of Ms. Jimenez.”
Jimenez is currently represented pro bono by the Innocence Project and Sara Ann Brown, Sadie Butler, Joanne Early, and Rachel Kingrey O’Neil, with the law firm Foley Gardere, Foley & Lardner LLP. Susan Henricks, formerly of Hull Henricks LLP, was also instrumental in presenting the case in state court.