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Sabrina Butler-Smith

State: Mississippi

Convicted: 1990

Exonerated: 1995

Race: Black

DNA used in exoneration? No

 

Reasons for wrongful conviction:

False or misleading forensic evidence 

Prosecutorial misconduct

Sabrina's Wrongful Conviction

 

Sabrina Butler-Smith was a Mississippi teenager who was convicted of murder and child abuse in the death of her nine-month-old son, Walter. She was later exonerated of all wrongdoing. She is one of only two women in the United States exonerated from death row.

 

On April 12, 1989, teenage mother Sabrina rushed Walter to the hospital after he suddenly stopped breathing. Doctors had attempted to resuscitate the child for thirty minutes, but failed, and Sabrina's baby died the next day. The very day of her son's death, Sabrina was arrested for child abuse due to the bruises left by her resuscitation attempts.

 

Sabrina's murder trial commenced in March 1990. At the trial, prosecutors sought to prove that Sabrina's account of the events leading to her son's death were false, and that she had inflicted the fatal wounds intentionally. Sabrina did not testify at her trial, and was convicted of both murder and child abuse, becoming the only woman on Mississippi's Death Row at the time.

 

Following her conviction, Sabrina filed an appeal with the Supreme Court of Mississippi. The courts reversed and remanded her convictions in August 1992, declaring that the prosecution had failed to prove that the incident was anything more than an accident.

 

In 1995, Sabrina's case went to retrial. At the trial, one of Sabrina's neighbors had come forward with evidence that corroborated her account that the injuries to her son occurred during the course of an unsuccessful attempt to administer CPR. In addition, the medical examiner changed his opinion about Walter's cause of death, which he now believed occurred due to a kidney malady. On December 17, 1995, Sabrina was exonerated after spending more than five years in prison and 33 months on death row.

 

Sabrina's Work Today

 

Sabrina now lives in Memphis, is blessed with three thriving children, and previously served on the board of Witness to Innocence. She speaks as often as she can to the public and media about her heartbreaking and moving story, and also works with state governments to hopefully change legislation regarding the death penalty.

 

Publications:

 

Exonerated: The Sabrina Butler Story

  • Written by Sabrina Butler-Smith

  • Her memoir the story of the first woman exonerated from death row in the U.S.

 

In The Media:

 

4.29.09 Female death row exoneree Sabrina Butler shares story with students

5.30.14 I Spent More Than Six Years as an Innocent Woman on Death Row

4.15.15 ‘I knew then that I didn’t stand a chance,’ says death row exoneree

10.21.16 Meeting the survivors of death row

12.13.16 Amanda Knox: Why Do Innocent Women Confess to Crimes They Didn’t Commit?

11.7.17 Exonerated death row inmate to speak at Jackson State

12.6.17 ‘Orange Is the New Black’ Keeps Missing How Wrongful Convictions Affect Women

10.14.18 Woman exonerated from death row to speak at DSCC Thursday

11.13.18 For death row survivors, the fight against capital punishment starts in Philly

1.16.19 Former death row inmate speaks out against NH death penalty

4.14.19 How a Former Death Row Prisoner and a Murder Victim's Daughter Joined Together to Fight the Death Penalty

4.24.19 Kids Meet a Death Row Exoneree

8.20.19 Life after death row: Witness to Innocence group brings former prisoners to Eagle County

8.20.19 Free at last: Death row exonerees share their stories with Vail Valley audience

8.21.19 Exonerated from death row, panelists address legal professionals in Eagle County

8.21.19 21,000 lost years: Former death row inmates speak in Breck... on Krystal 93 news

8.21.19 Death row exonerees speak out at Breckenridge panel

10.14.19 Executed man's daughter asks court to order DNA testing in 1985 murder conviction

10.14.19 Thirteen years after death-row inmate executed, court asked to test DNA that could exonerate Tennessee man

10.14.19 Family of man executed in Millington murder argues DNA could clear his name

10.15.19 DNA testing could exonerate man 13 years after he was executed for rape, murder

 

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