On June 24, 1997, Suzanne Johnson, a licensed at home day care provider in San Diego, CA, called 911 to report that Jasmine, a baby in her care, had gone limp and was struggling to breathe. Earlier in the day, Suzanne had put Jasmine in a high chair and accidentally tipped it over, causing Jasmine to fall and hit her head on the floor. Jasmine initially appeared to be fine. However, when Suzanne tried to later feed Jasmine, but the baby vomited and went comatose. Rescue workers responded, but were unable to resuscitate her. Suzanne was immediately suspected of assaulting Jasmine rather than viewing it as an accident, even though Jasmine had an existing skull fracture from a prior fall from her parent’s bed and despite the fact 911 responders put the breathing tube down the wrong side into Jasmine’s stomach preventing any chances of saving her. After two jury trials, the first resulting in a hung jury, Suzanne would find herself convicted of assault on a child causing death. She was given a life sentence.
Years later, the science of forensic pediatric pathology relative to the diagnoses of “Shaken Baby Syndrome” (SBS) would change dramatically in Suzanne’s favor. Much of the expert testimony that formed the basis of Suzanne’s conviction has now been scientifically proven to be invalidated and unreliable. In Part II, Alissa Bjerkhoel, Suzanne’s attorney from the California Innocence Project, walks us through Suzanne’s legal journey from two jury trials, her appeals, to the present.
Courtroom Confidential’s new Inside Innocence series, brings you compelling cases from the working files of the California Innocence Project.