A 74-year-old woman from Sheboygan appeared in court recently to face second-degree murder charges. She has been accused of accidentally killing her 7-month-old baby during an incident which happened 54 years ago.
This case highlights some important criminal defense issues. Specifically, it shows that cold cases can be much more difficult to investigate and prosecute, especially when the charge is murder.
The elderly woman was arrested for the crime after her adult children reported her to the police. Her 55-year-old son told police that his mother was responsible for the death of his infant sister. He also alleged that his mother regularly abused him and his other siblings when they were children.
The alleged murder of the 7-month-old took place in 1957. The accused woman's son claims that he saw his mother throw the baby onto a couch where she then bounced off and hit her head. An autopsy revealed brain hemorrhages and a collapsed lung.
The death was ruled an accident at the time, but the woman seems to have confessed when she was questioned recently by police. This is the only reason that the case can be tried. Without this there might not be enough evidence to pursue charges against her.
There will definitely be problems trying this case. First of all, the woman's age and mental state could render her confession irrelevant. If she is suffering from dementia or some other degenerative brain disorder, defense lawyers may argue that she doesn't understand the charges against her or that her confession was invalid.
The woman's children will testify that they were physically abused by her and may have been witnesses to their sister's death. The woman's sister also told police that she was abused by her sister when they were both children, and that she has witnessed her sister abusing the infant who later died.
However, defense attorneys may ask why it took them so long to come forward. It seems odd that no accusations were made until the woman became elderly and feeble.
Other difficulties in this case stem from the fact that so much time has passed. Many potential witnesses have died and physical evidence has been lost or corrupted. It is often difficult to track down police records and medical reports.
Cold cases are often hard to investigate and prosecute. It will be interesting to discover how a jury will rule in this case. We'll post the results on this blog as they become available.
Source: foxnews.com, "After 54 Years, Wisconsin Woman Charged in Baby's Death," Associated Press, 09 February 2011