The Michigan Court of Appeals has overturned a Detroit woman’s child abuse conviction, claiming that her defense attorney, John McWilliams, did a poor job of representing her. In fact, the Appeals Court found her defense to be so badly executed, that in the ruling they referred to it as “scientifically bankrupt.”
In September of 2014, 3-year-old Jamila Smith was brought to the Henry Ford Hospital Emergency Room by her mother, Jasmine Gordon. According to medical staff on duty that night, she was dead on arrival. The autopsy revealed that she had been suffering from severe pneumonia and had a lacerated pancreas. She also had bruises on her head and chest that doctors believed were consistent with abuse.
24-year-old Gordon and her boyfriend, 33-year-old Clifford Daniel Thomas were both charged with Second Degree Child Abuse, Felony Murder, Second Degree Murder, and Involuntary Manslaughter. In the trials that followed, Thomas was found guilty of Involuntary Manslaughter and Resisting and Obstructing a Police Officer. However, it was the brawl at his sentencing that made the event notable. Jamila’s father stood to make a victim impact statement, and chose instead to physically assault Thomas instead.
Gordon’s trial was notable for different reasons. The prosecutor accused her of allowing her child to die of pneumonia related to her damaged pancreas and an infection. They also accused her of not protecting her daughter from her abusive boyfriend. Her defense attorney, however, told jurors in his opening statement that Jamila had died of natural causes as a result of a brain defect. He promised that an expert would be brought up to testify on behalf of Gordon during the trial. But no such expert ever materialized.
According to the Appeals Court, Gordon’s defense attorney “knew his theory was scientifically bankrupt before he decided to employ it, but he rested Gordon’s defense on it nonetheless.” Forensic pathologist, Dr. L.J. Dragovic, told the court that he would have been willing to testify that Jamila’s pancreas injury could have been the result of an accident. However McWilliams chose not to put Dragovic on the witness stand, in part because the doctor and the prosecutor had prior personal issues and he was afraid that they wouldn’t be able to remain professional.
“By rejecting Dr. Dragovic’s testimony and proceeding to defend Gordon with his made-up, evidence-free theory, McWilliams fought a duel with an unloaded gun, and with the bullets in his pocket,” the appeals court ruling stated. “His ‘strategy’ actually amounted to no defense at all.”
McWilliams has gone on the record to say that the Appeals Court ruling is very embarrassing to him, but that he tried his best with Gordon’s case. She has since acquired a different attorney, who has been with her through the appeals process. The prosecutor’s office is not happy with the recent ruling, and has already stated their intention to take this case to the Supreme Court.
This is a classic example of how a poorly constructed or ineffective defense can rob a person of their future. If it wasn’t for the Appeals Court, Gordon would be spending the rest of her life behind bars as a result of one attorney’s bad representation. So if you or a loved one have been accused of child abuse or neglect, don’t allow a lax or inexperienced attorney to handle your case. Don’t settle for second best. Call 866 766 5245 to speak with a Kronzek Law Firm attorney today!