Attorneys will also request Del Prete be released from prison while awaiting court’s decision in shaken-baby syndrome case
By Lauryn Schroeder
The Medill Justice Project
Attorneys representing Jennifer Del Prete, a day care worker convicted of murder, appeared in federal court in Chicago today informing the judge they will file a Brady claim, accusing the state of withholding key evidence discovered by The Medill Justice Project that points to her innocence. Her lawyers also said they will request her release from prison while awaiting the judge’s ruling.
Key evidence in Del Prete’s claim involves a decade-old letter written by a police detective in Del Prete’s case that was found by The Medill Justice Project and published as part of its investigation of the case last year.
The new development in Del Prete’s case comes in the wake of a Jan. 27 ruling in which Judge Matthew F. Kennelly determined that no reasonable juror, who heard all of the evidence, would have found Del Prete guilty of murder.
Del Prete, 43, was accused of violently shaking a 3 ½-month-old infant on Dec. 27, 2002. She was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2005. Her attorneys filed a federal habeas corpus petition, claiming imprisonment in violation of her constitutional rights, in 2010, claiming ineffective counsel and insufficient evidence violated her rights to a fair trial. A federal judge reopened a hearing to examine Del Prete’s case in April 2013, in light of a published Medill Justice Project investigation that included the police letter as revelatory evidence.
Over the past 13 months, the court reviewed new evidence and heard testimony of many expert witnesses in connection with Del Prete’s first-degree murder conviction. In the 2003 letter obtained by The Medill Justice Project, Police Commander Kenneth Kroll said the forensic pathologist who conducted the infant’s autopsy questioned whether the day care worker had violently shaken the child in what is known as shaken-baby syndrome or abusive head trauma.
Patrick W. Blegen, Del Prete’s lead attorney, said the letter represents a Brady violation because prosecutors failed to disclose evidence favorable to Del Prete during her initial trial. The Brady violation issue will be added to the original habeas corpus petition and filed on Feb. 18.
“We still have more work to do,” Blegen said. “We’re hopeful that she won’t have to sit in custody while we pursue the Brady claim but that’s up to the judge to decide.”
The next status hearing is scheduled for Feb. 20 at 9:30 a.m. in downtown Chicago.