According to the American Bar Association, defense attorneys are ethically bound to provide the best possible defense for a client, whether or not they are are guilty or innocent of the crime they are accused of committing. While some defense attorneys are obviously better than others at their trade, all attorneys defending the accused are tasked with doing the very best they can to defend their client against allegations and charges. Which is why Leo Ackley is headed back to court again after three years in prison.
In 2012, Ackley was convicted of killing his girlfriend’s 3-year-old daughter, Baylee. The little girl was found unresponsive on the floor in her bedroom, where Ackley said he found her after her nap. According to the prosecution, the child died as a result of blunt force trauma or being shaken. As Ackley was the only one home at the time, he was the only suspect. He denies any wrongdoing, and claims that the child must have been harmed as a result of a fall from her bed.
At the time of his trial, the jury heard from five separate expert witnesses for the prosecution, all of whom placed the finger of blame squarely on Ackley. Due to the lack of any eyewitness testimony and a lack of confession, the prosecution’s entire case rested on expert testimony.
But Ackley’s court-appointed defense attorney, however, did not respond in kind. Although funding was made available in order to hire an expert witness who would have testified on Ackley’s behalf, and a specific expert witness was even recommended, the defense presented no expert testimony.
In September of 2013, Chief Circuit Judge James C. Kingsley ordered that Ackley should receive a new trial on the grounds that his defense had been ineffective. So ineffective, in fact, that the Judge believed that Ackley had been deprived of his constitutional right to a fair trial. But that order was overturned the following April by three Michigan Court of Appeals Judges.
But the Michigan Supreme Court finally ruled in Ackley’s favor, granting him a new trial in the light of his former, ineffective defense, counsel. “Expert testimony was critical in this case to explain whether the cause of the child’s death was intentional or accidental.” says the Supreme Court ruling, and this was a major issue in Leo’s defense – mainly the fact that he didn’t really have one.
The fact that Ackley’s defense attorney failed to provide him with any kind of expert testimony “despite having been provided court funding for expert assistance and the name of a well-known forensic pathologist who could support the defense theory that the injuries had resulted from an accidental fall” is the reason he will be returning to court again in an effort to receive what every American has a constitutional right to – a fair trial.
We wish Mr. Ackley the best, and the best defense possible, and hope that this time around, the justice system will provide him with a fair trial and a measure of hope for his future.