Friday, June 01, 2012

Judge recommends against habeas relief for Hannah Overton: Governor should pardon her

The district judge in Hannah Overton's case recommended against her habeas corpus petition, declaring the faulty scientific evidence in her case was contradicted at trial and wasn't new information that should change the verdict. See coverage from:
Colloff notes that, to say the least, the judge in the case has strong opinions about parenting.

Grits argued before that Governor Perry should simply pardon Overton if the habeas writ doesn't go her way, and given this opinion I think that more strongly than ever. What the judge has said is he thinks Overton received a fair trial. We'll find out down the line if the Court of Criminal Appeals agrees. Even if she did, though, her actual-innocence claims are strong enough that the Board of Pardons and Paroles and Gov. Perry should at least commute her sentence. An honest assessment of the scientific testimony in her case cannot justify imprisonment unto death.


Anonymous said...

It's no wonder that the public has lost confidence in the liberal media. The coverage of this case has been so biased and lacking in professional objectivity that it's laughable. Just as the national mainstream media has become nothing more than a PR conduit for the liberal establishment, Texas Monthly and several of the major Texas dailies now do the same thing in Texas for criminal defense lawyers. All we've heard for months on this case is about how unfair the defendant's trial was, how the prosecutors withheld evidence, etc. So now it turns out that there was a whole other side of the story. These alternative defensive theories were, in fact, known at the time of trial and the defense could have allowed the jury to consider a lesser charge but chose not to. But hey, why let the truth get in the way of a good story or the liberal "pro-criminal" narrative? Who cares if the reputations of a few dedicated public servants get trashed in the process? It's all for the "greater good" isn't it? Fortunately, I think that although the majority of Texans understand that mistakes have been made in the criminal justice system and we constantly need to strive for improvement, most of these publicized "innocence" claims are nothing more than criminal defense lawyers doing what they are supposed to do--try to get guilty people off. I guess the media thinks that regurgitating defense claims sells more papers and magazines. Fortunately, most Texans see through the liberal bias. Looks like this case is just the latest example.

Blue_in_Guadalupe said...

What liberal media? The closest I see in Texas is center right media. Nationally there's Mother Jones and The Nation and that's about it. If the woman believes she's innocent why should she go for a lesser charge instead of attempting to be found innocent?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

7:33, you've got to be kidding! Or else living in a fantasy world. It's no wonder such foolishness is ALWAYS spewed anonymously.

For starters, you're getting the contradictory information you claim these reporters are concealing from the same writers you accuse of malfeasance. So basically you find them credible when they report what agrees with you and non-credible when you disagree. And since you won't say who you are, who knows what are your motives? (Though I could guess.)

Back here in reality where the rest of us reside, any quantitative or qualitative media analysis of criminal justice coverage shows that if the media are "regurgitating" anything it's the views of police and prosecutors, who have entire PR departments devoted to churning out spin for them that reporters gobble up day in and day out. The reason this case got press is because even prosecution experts changed their tune to say she was innocent. But, as Antonin Scalia is fond of pointing out, innocence is not necessarily a legal reason to grant relief if a defendant received a fair trial.

In any event, the science still cuts Overton's way regardless of the procedural considerations reviewed under habeas, which is why I've suggested a pardon may be the appropriate remedy.

Anonymous said...

People who can only see the world in terms of liberal versus conservative are truly shallow minded.

Anonymous said...

I agree with 7:33. What is the relevance of the judge's views on spanking? Seems to me that this is nothing more that a petulant, ad hominem attack on the judge by Ms. Colloff for not agreeing with her ever-so-enlightened, elite, liberal media view of how things should be. How dare anyone disagree with contemporary liberal orthoxy that all criminals are good and all police, prosecutors and elected judges are bad! So now having "strong views on parenting" makes one biased as a finder of fact in a child abuse case?

What's mildly amusing here is that an anti-spanking judge should be EXACTLY the kind of judge that most "touchy-feely" bleeding hearts should embrace. Hell, on any other day of the week, Grits might advocate that this judge be the next director of the Texas Youth Commission. And yet in this particular context, any judge who rules against a criminal who CLAIMS to be innocent is viewed as the enemy. Because we all know that any criminal defendant who claims to be innocent must really be innocent, right? Never mind what the evidence at trial might have been or what 12 citizens of Corpus Christi believed "beyond a reasonable doubt." Those rubes! To me, all this demonstrates is that when you get right down to it, you liberals have no problem eating your own when someone has the audacity to step out of line and disagree with your "hug-a-thug" philosophy.

@Blue, "if the woman BELIEVES she's innocent?" Really? Innocence is now a state of mind? I'm sure there are over a hundred thousand inmates in Texas prisons who would love that!

Lone Star Ma said...

I do not know (no legal training here) if the charge she got was the right one for what she did, but I certainly do not think Ms. Overton should be pardoned. I do not believe she meant to harm her child but she used a form of discipline that resulted in his death and lied about it even though her own children testified that they were disciplined that way. She let her defense team drum up a lot of blaming the victim stories that slandered a dead child. She is culpable. I also feel that her church - and I am familiar with quite a few people in it down here - is morally, though not legally, culpable for creating a culture of corporal punishment meant to raise their children to be "godly". I don't think that methods of discipline that result in the death of four-year-olds are ever pardonable.

Anonymous said...

7:33, 11:11, and Lone Star Ma: I'm sorry to see so much hate coming out of each of you. For one you don't even get the all facts straight... it seems you're piecing together bits of what you've seen in the media and taking your own spin, then writing against other opinions being expressed as if they're the only ones getting it wrong. I myself am not "a liberal" nor "a conservative", and I usually don't post any of my opinions on pages like this, but it saddens me to see comments like yours. Your calling this woman a liar yet you know nothing about her except what has been spun in the media (good or bad). You're making accusations about other peoples motives without knowing where they're coming from or even checking your own. Yes people make mistakes (including "a few dedicated public servants"), but I for one thought in America a person was considered innocent until PROVEN guilty (and for capital murder- beyond reasonable doubt). There has been enough shown in trail and appeal to at very least raise reasonable doubt as to the events that lead up to this child's death. There has also been evidence to show this mother did all she knew (or any parent would know according to expert testimony) to do to help save this child. Yes, a child died, but considering the facts of this case, does that mean this mother is to spend the rest of her life in prison while her husband and other children have go on with their lives having lost not only their brother but also their mother in this process. That is no way to honor the death of a little boy who considered this his forever family. His mother has served time, now bring his family back together.

Anonymous said...

Way to go grits. You always put down an perfectly good comment with you're a coward for signing in as anonymous. If you don't have an intelligent response just say so.

Lucy said...

Hannah is my niece.

When she was convicted, my liberal friends said "Welcome to George Bush's America!" My conservative friends snarled "How many liberals were on the jury?"

The truth is that innocent people are convicted often in the USA, and Hannah is one of them. It has little or nothing to do with liberal vs conservative. There are huge flaws in the legal system that result in nightmares like this one.

Ms. Colloff's reporting on the last hearing was accurate. The Brady violations alone should mean a new trial. I can only surmise that Longoria lacks the capacity to take in new information and form a new opinion or he has his eye on his upcoming campaign and is taking the safest route for himself.

@Lone Star Ma -- Hannah did not give Andrew any spices as punishment. That was a myth perpetrated by the prosecution and fueled by inaccurate reporting.

Lone Star Ma said...

I don't hate Ms. Overton - I feel very sorry for her and her family, but not as sorry as I feel for Andrew. A terrible mistake was made, but after knowing - not from the media, but from family and church members - the beliefs in play, and watching some records of the testimony, I don't believe it was Andrew's mistake. Again, I do not know if discipline that accidentally results in death merits that sentence - that is a legal question. I hold that the punishment and lying were not pardonable, though. Too many people testified contrary to the stories being told and I have too much experience with the foster care system to feel differently. There is a big problem with this particular religious subculture and child abuse that is not meant to be abuse. My priority is helping people know that there is nothing Godly about hurting children.

Lucy said...

@Lone Star Ma, with all due respect, you are mistaken about this being a matter of discipline or "beliefs." I was at the first trial, have been at every court date, and have poured over the transcripts. I am part of Hannah's family, have known Larry's mother since high school and have spoken with her about this case. I know many church members. None offer the opinion that this tragedy came out of punishment or some kind of "belief."

Andrew was a precious 4 year old boy whom we welcomed into our family with great love. No one in our family "blames" Andrew as if he had a choice in the matter. It was obvious that he had developmental delays. His eye and face shape were those of a child with fetal alcohol syndrome or Prader-Wili and indeed his birth mother admitted to using drugs, including meth, and alcohol while carrying him. He was not verbal, tending to communicate with looks and pointing like a much younger child. But he was still delightful. He was very much a boys' boy who loved playing with little cars with my son and tagging along after his new dad, Larry. There are no words to express our grief when Andrew died. It was like a bad dream, as is the loss of any child, which I have experienced. I remember thinking that Hannah and Larry looked as though they'd been poured into their bodies at Andrew's funeral. They could stand and walk at the funeral only by leaning on one another.

We have never forgotten Andrew. He was never abused by the Overtons. But our grief over Andrew has been overshadowed by the additional tragedy of Hannah's conviction. They did not realize that he might eat a food substance that could be lethal. They did not understand what was wrong with him on the day he became ill. Doctors required blood tests to diagnose him. How could Hannah and Larry be expected to know what was wrong with Andrew and save him?

Lone Star Ma said...

I know that none of the family or church seems to have the opinion that there was any such problem with their beliefs - that is what concerns me, for the safety of many more local children, frankly. Church and family members have expressed support for the views of people like Michael Pearl, though, at other times and I believe that sort of thinking led to this. Ms. Overton displayed, in her televised interview, every tell that investigators are trained to watch for in people who are lying because they are afraid. The child's previous foster parent denied that he behaved in the way the defense team claim he behaved. The children testified that they were similarly disciplined.I acknowledge that it might all be some very strange coincidence in which none of the evidence that generally points to lying did, but I doubt it, and know that the judge had more information to go on than I do. I know I would probably not be able to believe this line had been crossed in my own family, either - I am troubled deeply enough that it seems to have been crossed in the close kin of a friend's family. I am sorry if I add to your grief - truly - I really do believe there are still children in danger in our community from this way of thinking or I would not say anything. I respect your steady support for the family you believe in and love.

William L. Anderson said...

From what I can tell, Lone Star Ma is someone who most likely believes that those dastardly Duke Lacrosse players raped and beat Crystal Mangum. After all, that is what the police and the DA claimed, and no one needs more proof than that.

Many of the "discipline" rumors were fueled by a CPS employee who later was fired. The media picked up the lies, ran them, and once they were out, no one could take them back.

Am I supposed to believe that a mother force-fed a huge amount of salt into a child in order to kill him and he didn't fight back? There really are things like signs of struggles, but I find it interesting how people can pretend away such things when the facts don't fit the narratives.

As for Longoria's actions on spanking, from what I can tell, the woman did not break Texas law, but Longoria in essence wrote his own law from the bench. THAT is the significance of what he did.

Thomas R. Griffith said...

Hey Grits, one of the Ads located under Create a Link just happens to be from

*Do you think Ms. Overton's endeavors would be best served with the assistance of a GFB O. Henry style Petition for a Full Pardon - for innocence Campaign?

Lucy said...

@Lone Star Ma -- You maintain that "views" and "beliefs" in the Overton's church and community led to Andrew's death.

The Overton's church has been in operation for 17 years. There are no other reports of purported child abuse among the members of this community. You can put your fears for the safety of other local children to rest as far as this group of people is concerned.

Regarding your theory about the "tells" in Hannah's televised interview -- to what are you referring? Should you ever, God forbid, lose a child in a tragic accident, then be accused of causing the death, I would be interested in how you would comport yourself in a TV interview. I've produced TV interviews and can tell you many people don't come across well on video. And I'm always astounded by those who assume they know how someone "would act" under dire circumstances which they have not personally experienced.

Andrew's foster mother did testify that he was "normal," but failed to mention that she'd taken Andrew to see Dr. Cortez and a neurologist because she was concerned about his developmental delays. That was info that came out in the recent hearing.

The Overton children did not testify, nor were the tapes of their interrogations used. The 7 year old said his parents had touched a red pizza pepper flake to his tongue on one occasion for something he said. In my day, parents washed kids' mouths with soap. This was not a standard practice in the Overton home. They are all remarkably well-adjusted kids, not at all like kids who have been subjected to or witnessed abuse.

Lucy said...

@Thomas R. Griffith -- more than 1200 letters in support of Hannah were delivered to the Board of Pardons and Paroles and the Governor's office.

If you think a petition will help, I'm all for it. I'm sure we can get thousands of signatures.

Thank you so much for your concern. Wrongful convictions are not a pleasant topic. Hannah's case has caused me to learn far more about wrongful convictions than I want to know, to change my opinion on the death penalty, and to deeply challenge my confidence in our legal system.

4Kids said...

She was not wrongfully convicted. Her actions resulted in the child's death. He was abused. She lied about it. She does not deserve an appeal and was rightfully convicted.

Rest in Peace, Little Andrew. May Justice stand.

Anonymous said...

I feel for the children that have lost their mother for the past five years. I feel for the mother that has been locked up away from her family. But I feel the most for the innocent, four year old boy that trusted the family he was placed with.
Who is now dead.

There is plenty of white washing going on here. A four year old boy would have not been able to ingest that great amount of salt neatly; most certainly there would be spillage on the shelf/floor. Either the mother ignored the spill or was neglectful by not looking into how much he ingested. By ignoring his complaints for three hours, they most certainly sealed his demise. No stomach pumping would have been possible by then.

More white the Zatarains spice in water wouldn't have resulted in the level of sodium found. The fecal sheets burned on the BBQ speak to the Father being at his wits end. If the boy was trying to take them out of the trash, you take the trash bag to the outdoor garbage can. Burning the sheets is a means to cover your ass. The video camera focused on the boy's bed? The other children vouching that he was punished in over the top ways! These were two young parents with too much responsibly on their plates taking care of their own brood of five let alone a boy who already had a rough start in life.

This mother should be asking not for a new trial but for God's forgiveness. Thou shall not kill.

JEY said...


Your comments seem incredibly biased by your assumptions and previous grudges.

As for Hannah's "guilty tells" - here's an actual deception expert who completely disagrees with you:

Lets Hear the Truth said...

You have to read this article on abusive parents who poison their children with salt, the patterns of abuse match the Overton case:

Including: "In many of these instances,
salt administration is used as a form of punishment."

"Parents of one child said they had used salty
foods to treat the child's sudden onset of voracious appetite and thirst. These behaviors were not observed while the child was hospitalized." (In Andrew's case, symptoms were not noticed in previous foster care)

-The article says accidental salt poisoning is often very mild, and not life threatening. Elevated levels, such as Andrew had, are often caused by intentional ingestion of salt--and may be forcibly administered.

"Substantiated cases of salt poisoning are associated with severe hypernatremia, usually above 160 mEq/liter. It is sometimes in excess of 200 and is often in the 170 to 190 range. This finding is often found in association with other signs of physical abuse such as
fractures, retinal hemorrhages, burns, failure to thrive, and emotional deprivation.." (Extreme salt poisoning that is caused by an abusive caretaker is often found with other signs of abuse, as Andrew had--the bruising, the medical neglect, the burning of his sheet, the cameras, etc)

Consider this, what would make Andrew drink water mixed with Zatarain's --which is very spicy & hot? Also, this article says salt poisoning is usually chronic, it occurs over time & with multiple doses (which may have caused Andrew's previous symptoms of vomiting and diaherea). Either Andrew drank the mixture because he was afraid, and after repeated punishment felt he had no choice or he was deprived of food/water and so desperate that he drank this mixture.

"These instances are not as benign as they sound.
For the serum sodium to elevate this high, the child must be deprived of water and/or salt must be forcibly administered. In an attempt to re-create a serum
sodium of 170 by mere salt administration as explained by the child's mother, investigators were able to administer only 20 grams of salt with great difficulty to the child which resulted in a maximum serum sodium of only 147. This implies that salt must be forcibly administered."

Anonymous said...

Jurors in the capital murder trial of Hannah Overton were shown photos of 4-year-old Andrew Burd's injured body Monday.

Dr. Alexandre Rotta, who continued his testimony from Friday, recalled the widespread scratches he saw on Andrew when the boy was admitted to Driscoll Children's Hospital that day.

Ulcerated lesions on one of his hands, bruises to his knee, face, chest and buttocks, along with sores on one of his elbows, were depicted in the photos.

Andrew died the next day.

"There were so many bruises and scratches it would have been difficult to describe them all," Rotta said, adding that photos made documenting the injuries easier.

Jurors view pictures of dead boy's injuries
August 28, 2007
Mary Ann Cavazos

Lucy Frost said...

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals today granted a hearing with oral arguments for Hannah. They want to know whether she had a) Ineffective counsel or b) there was prosecutorial misconduct in withholding of exculpatory evidence.

Those continue to believe that Hannah "punished" Andrew with salt should know that the sippy cup in question is of the type that cannot spill -- one has to suck the contents out. Yet another piece of evidence that was not brought out in trial, not to mention the tests run on the vomit that were withheld despite defense attorneys' repeated requests.

And you are urged to read the coverage of the English couple whose adoptive child died under similar circumstances. They were convicted but their sentences were later overturned.