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Day Care Provider to be Released From Prison After Medill Probe

“Rare” decision by federal judge in shaken-baby syndrome case investigated by students

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April 23, 2014 | by Wendy Leopold

EVANSTON, Ill. --- In what he called a “rare ruling,” a Chicago federal judge yesterday (April 21) ordered the release of a day care provider convicted of murdering an infant under her care -- thanks in part to evidence discovered by Northwestern University’s Medill Justice Project.

Jennifer Del Prete has spent nearly a decade in prison for a shaken-baby murder she says she did not commit. She was not due to be released on parole until 2025.

According to U.S. District Court Judge Matthew F. Kennelly, Del Prete will be released after posting bond while the courts address her claims of innocence. Northwestern undergraduates, working with Medill Justice Project director Alec Klein, discovered a 2003 letter written by a police detective pointing to her innocence that prosecutors had not provided to Del Prete or her attorneys.

The judge cited The Medill Justice Project’s findings in his decision. In the letter, the detective wrote that the pathologist performing the infant’s autopsy had significant doubts that Del Prete had violently shaken the infant in what is known as shaken-baby syndrome.

His order yesterday came in the wake of a 97-page ruling earlier this year in which the judge determined that no reasonable jury that heard all the evidence would have convicted Del Prete.

“I’m humbled by the tremendous journalism of our students and their dogged pursuit of the truth,” said Klein, professor of journalism at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications. “Our students have the capacity to do life-changing journalism.”

The Medill Justice Project began investigating cases of potential miscarriage of justice involving shaken-baby syndrome in 2012. It has created a national database of shaken-baby syndrome cases across the country and a documentary on the issue. Earlier this month, the Medill Justice Project received a national investigative Reporters & Editors Award for its investigation of shaken-baby syndrome.  

For more complete details about Judge Kennelly’s order yesterday and the Del Prete’s case, visit the Medill Justice Project.