Gwinnett judge denies new trial bid by dad in ‘shaken baby’ case

Danyel Smith, who was convicted of killing his son Chandler in 2002.

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Danyel Smith, who was convicted of killing his son Chandler in 2002.

A Gwinnett County judge has denied a bid for a new trial by a man who contends he was wrongly convicted of killing his 2-month-old son and has the scientific evidence to prove it.

Danyel Smith has been imprisoned since he was convicted at trial for the “shaken baby” murder of his son Chandler on May 6, 2002. His lawyers denounced the ruling and vowed to appeal.

Chandler’s limp body was rushed to the hospital after Smith drove his son to meet Chandler’s mother at a local WIC public assistance office. Chandler was taken off life support a week later.

An autopsy found that Chandler had a skull fracture above his left ear, wrist fractures, retinal hemorrhaging and a pool of blood between his brain and its outermost covering. With no other explanation for this trauma, Medical Examiner Steve Dunton testified his findings were “classic and in some cases virtually exclusive for violent shaking.”

Smith was found guilty of felony murder and aggravated battery and sentenced to life in prison.

But in a motion filed a year ago, Smith’s lawyers, citing sworn testimony from an eminent pediatric neurologist, said Chandler died of natural causes. Advancements in medical diagnostics not available two decades ago show that complications from Chandler’s premature birth and subsequent seizures contributed to his death, the motion said.

“Chandler’s death was not the result of parental abuse or mistreatment, nor was his death caused by anyone,” Dr. Saadi Ghatan, director of pediatric neurosurgery at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, said in an affidavit attached to the new trial motion. “Rather, the events surrounding his untimely death at 2 months of age began with his early and difficult birth.”

Dr. Saadi Ghatan, chair of neurosurgery at Mount Sinai West and Mount Sinai St. Luke's in New York. (Mount Sinai)

In an order signed Monday, Gwinnett Superior Court Judge Ronnie Batchelor dismissed the motion on procedural grounds. He found Smith had not cleared two of the six legal hurdles needed to win such an extraordinary request for a new trial.

Instead of finding newly discovered evidence, the defense only offered a different interpretation of the medical records used at trial through a new expert witness, Batchelor said. The defense also failed to show why it could not have called on such an expert to challenge the medical conclusions of the state’s experts at trial, he said.

Smith’s attorneys, Mark Loudon-Brown and Whitney Knox Lee from the Southern Center for Human Rights, said the ruling “misapplies the law and ignores Mr. Smith’s unrebutted evidence of innocence.”

They added, “Preventing Mr. Smith an opportunity to present his new evidence of innocence at a hearing defies justice. We thus call on the Gwinnett County district attorney to act immediately to correct Danyel Smith’s demonstrated wrongful incarceration.”

Gwinnett DA Patsy Austin-Gatson did not return a message and a phone call seeking comment.

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