Shocking: How Faulty Science Lands Innocent People Behind Bars as Accused Child Murderers
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Gowitt declined repeated requests for comment on the case.
The jury acquitted Ware, but her life is not the same. Her husband spent more than $700,000 on her defense, selling off and mortgaging real estate acquired over decades.
"We had to move in with my parents," said Ware, 38. "It's just messed us up totally."
After she was freed from prison, Ware, who had worked as a day-care provider, was rejected for job after job. "I even tried McDonald's," she recalled. She thinks potential employers were frightened off by her time in jail.
The stain of the case lingers. To this day, Ware's mug shot appears on the Georgia Department of Corrections' website, which lists her as still incarcerated.
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In prosecuting Ernie Lopez, law enforcement officials focused almost exclusively on Isis Vas' final hours.
Lopez's legal team looked back further, however, marshaling evidence suggesting that the baby's deteriorating condition might have been overlooked by her mother.
Veronica Vas had moved to Amarillo in 1995 to do her residency at a branch of Texas Tech University. She began dating a doctor, with whom she had two children. Then, in a subsequent relationship, Vas, 32, became pregnant with Isis. By all accounts, Isis' father wasn't involved in her life.
Court records from a custody dispute between Vas and the father of her older children, as well as statements submitted as part of the Lopez case, depict the Vas household as chaotic in the period surrounding Isis' birth.
Dena Ammons, a nurse who worked closely with Vas during her residency, said Vas changed during her pregnancy with Isis. She began showing up late for work, her hair matted and uncombed. In a sworn statement, Ammons said that Vas drank and smoked throughout the pregnancy.
Lorrie Word worked for Vas as a live-in nanny from August 1999 until the summer of 2000, caring for Isis from the time she was born. Word said in an affidavit that, on one occasion, she returned from her night off to find Isis alone in a darkened house, crying and soaked with urine. Vas would later say she only left the child for 10 minutes. Soon after the incident, Word quit her job.
A family therapist who visited the Vas home in 2000 as part of the custody dispute described it as "extremely cluttered." "It was difficult to walk across the floor because of blankets, clothes, and toys," she wrote in a report submitted to a family court. "The home appeared extraordinarily disorganized."
Vas declined repeated requests for comment for this story. She has moved to Michigan, where the state medical board recently suspended her medical license due to alcohol abuse.
During Lopez's trial, Vas testified that in the months after Word quit she came to depend on the Lopez family to help care for her children.
According to Ernie Lopez, the day before Isis went into cardiac arrest he became so worried about the baby's health that he asked Vas for a note authorizing him or his wife to take the child to the doctor.
Vas didn't give him the note before leaving town for the weekend, he recalled in an interview. "Isis will be fine," Lopez said Vas told him.
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By 2009, the new medical evidence gathered by Heather Kirkwood had captured the attention of the courts. After she filed an appeal, a habeas corpus petition, a judge granted Lopez a new evidentiary hearing. It represented a step toward possibly overturning his conviction.