After spending 16 years in prison for the murder of his four-month-old daughter, Zavion Johnson is on the verge of having his conviction overturned.
On November 24, 2001, then 18-year-old Zavion called 911 after he found that his infant daughter Nadia had stopped breathing. Paramedics rushed her to the hospital, where they found that Nadia had suffered severe head injuries, including a fractured skull. It was too late to save Nadia and, upon seeing the injuries, doctors naturally suspected abuse and called the police, who arrested Zavion for murder two days later.
Zavion claimed that he had accidentally dropped his daughter in the shower but he did not initially tell doctors or police about the drop, leading most to assume that he was covering up his abusive behavior. Deputy District Attorney Chris Cosca called it “a classic case of shaken baby syndrome” and claimed there was no way a drop in the shower could have caused this much damage. Multiple medical experts supported Cosca’s assertion and Zavion was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 25 years to life.
However, new research regarding shaken baby syndrome caused some to question whether Zavion was wrongfully imprisoned. At the time of the trial, shaken baby syndrome was nearly universally accepted, as the medical community believed that injuries to infants that caused swelling of the brain or bleeding on the brain’s surface could only be caused by abuse. But recently, it has been discovered that genetic conditions, diseases, and even seemingly harmless accidents are capable of causing real damage to babies, making Zavion’s story much more credible than it seemed in 2001. In fact, in 2009, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended doctors stop using the term ‘shaken baby syndrome’ altogether; in 2015, the Washington Post reported that at least 16 ‘shaken baby syndrome’ murders had been overturned.
As a result of these revelations, the two key medical witnesses on Zavion’s trial have disavowed their testimonies in the last year and the district attorney’s office has supported Zavion’s attempt to overturn his conviction. Now Zavion and his legal team are hoping that he will be told that he can leave prison later this week. The DA could ask for a retrial but, given the circumstances, it looks like Zavion will be home soon.