Havard is on death row in Mississippi after being convicted of killing and sexually abusing his girlfriend’s infant daughter. The sexual abuse charge was essential to Havard’s murder conviction. The child died from a blow to the head. Havard says he dropped her while taking her out of the bathtub. The state argued he killed her. But because there were no witnesses or other evidence to support the murder charge, an odd twist in Mississippi law allowed them to argue that the sexual abuse was the underlying crime leading to the murder. I guess the thinking goes, if he sexually assaulted her, he must have killed her, too. I wrote a bit about Havard in my reason piece on Dr. Steven Hayne last October. Hayne’s testimony about finding evidence of sexual abuse was critical to Havard’s conviction.
Havard had asked the trial court for funds to hire his own expert to review Hayne’s autopsy. The court turned him down, ruling that Dr. Hayne, with his thousands of appearances in Mississippi’s courts, was sufficient. After Havard’s trial and conviction, Mississippi’s post-conviction relief office was able to get former Alabama state medical examiner Dr. Jim Lauridson to review Hayne’s work. Not surprisingly, Lauridson found it lacking.
Hayne and several hospital workers testified at trial that the baby’s anus was dilated, indicating sexual abuse. Lauridson reviewed Hayne’s autopsy report and photos, and concluded that the evidence wasn’t nearly conclusive enough to support Hayne’s testimony. The anus wasn’t torn or lacerated, and it can dilate naturally. Lauridson also noted that hospital staff had inserted a thermometer into the child’s rectum in the frenzy to revive her. Tests showed no trace of Havard’s DNA in or on the child.
On Havard’s first appeal, the state supreme court refused to even consider Lauridson’s testimony, arguing that it was new evidence that should have been introduced at trial—a nifty little Catch 22.
I won’t go so far as to say that Havard is innocent of killing the child. Because there were no witnesses, it’s impossible to know. He had no history of child abuse or violent behavior. And unlike in the Levon Brooks and Kennedy Brewer cases, DNA testing won’t play a role in this case.
But it is clear that he shouldn’t have been convicted, and certainly shouldn’t be on death row. In turning down Havard’s latest appeal, Mississippi’s Supreme Court has decided that even after all of the questions raised about Dr. Hayne’s methods, practices, and credibility, they’re still willing put their faith in him, even in a case where his testimony was critical to securing a death sentence, and even when that testimony has been challenged by a medical examiner who, unlike Hayne, has the respect of his peers, isn’t seen as a hack for the state, and is actually board certified in forensic pathology