Texas mother exonerated 20 years after death of child who ate paper towels

State relied on faulty medical evidence in 2005 case, advocates argue

Josh Marcus
San Francisco
Tuesday 08 August 2023 16:48 EDT
Judge exonerates Rosa Jimenez

A Texas woman named Rosa Jimenez who was wrongfully imprisoned for nearly two decades for allegedly choking an infant child with paper towels was fully exonerated on Monday, after a court approved a local prosecutor’s request to dismiss the indictment.

Travis County district attorney José Garza argued in court the 2005 conviction was based on false medical evidence and testimony.

"It is clear that false medical testimony was used to obtain her conviction, and without that testimony under the law, he said in a statement to the Austin American-Statesman. "Dismissing the Jimenez case is the right thing to do.

"In this case, our criminal justice system failed,” he added. “It also failed Rosa Jimenez.”

Ms Jimenez was released from prison in 2021, and earlier this year, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned the conviction.

“I feel grateful,” Ms Jimenez said at a news conference following the final dismissal of the indictment. “Grateful for everybody that supported me, everybody that believed in me. It’s a new life.”

In 2003, the Texas mother was convicted of the murder of 21-month-old Bryan Gutierrez, a child she was babysitting.

Ms Jimenez always maintained her innocence.

At the time of her arrest, she spoke little English, and was interrogated by an officer who spoke little Spanish, according to The Innocence Project, an advocacy organisation which assisted Ms Jimenez in her legal fight for exoneration.

At trial, the state presented since-disproven evidence that an infant would be unable to swallow a mass of paper towel. A federal appeals court later found in 2018 that during the proceeding, Ms Jimenez received such ineffective counsel that her constitutional rights were denied.

“She was forced to give birth to her son in jail, shackled, while awaiting trial. For the past 20 years, she has fought for this day, her freedom, and to be reunited with her children,” Vanessa Potkin of the Innocence Project said in a statement. “Her wrongful conviction was not grounded in medical science, but faulty medical assumptions that turned a tragedy into a crime — with her own attorney doing virtually nothing to defend her. I wish we could say that what happened to Rosa was an isolated occurrence, but we have a real, pervasive problem in our country when it comes to how the criminal legal system treats the caregivers of children who are hurt or die.

As The Independent has reported, women face particular biases and exceptional treatment when accused of capital crimes, especially against children.

Forty per cent of female exonerees were originally convicted of harming children or other loved ones in their care, according to the National Registry of Exonerations.

Ms Jimenez now lives in New York and is seeking medical treatment and an organ donor for a serious kidney condition she was diagnosed with while in prison.

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