Freedom for Alan Butts! Ohio Wrongful Conviction Overturned

Freedom for Alan Butts!

The Ohio Innocence Project, the Center for Integrity in Forensic Sciences, and Attorney Jim Owen are pleased to announce that Franklin County Court of Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey M. Brown has overturned our client Alan J. Butts’ wrongful conviction. He was released late last night after nearly 20 years in prison.

Alan Butts

Alan and his mom, moments after his release. Photo by Barry Rowen

Alan was convicted in 2003 in the death of the 2-year-old son of his girlfriend, a death authorities and medical experts at the time attributed to violent shaking. Because Alan was the last person with the child before his collapse, he was accused of attacking him. Alan has always maintained his innocence, but it took almost 20 years for the science and the law to catch up to the truth. As Judge Brown set forth in his November 14 ruling, the understanding of injury and death attributed to Shaken Baby Syndrome has changed radically since Alan’s 2003 conviction.

Alan is represented by OIP staff attorney Donald Caster, myself, and Jim Owen, Alan’s longtime attorney, who has steadfastly helped Alan tell his story of innocence.

At least 26 cases of wrongful conviction around the country have been tied to what was once called “Shaken Baby Syndrome” and is now often termed “Abusive Head Trauma.” Since the 1970s, infants and young children who died with certain types of bleeding within the head and little or no evidence of external injury were thought to have been shaken violently. Doctors also previously believed that a child who was shaken in this way would collapse immediately, making the identification of the perpetrator simple: it was always the last person with the child.  Now, much more is known about the wide variety of conditions that can lead to the findings once thought to be entirely indicative of violent shaking. Doctors now know that this bleeding can be caused by genetic conditions, infections, other diseases, accidents, strokes, bleeding disorders, and more.

Judge Brown heard six days of testimony in May on Alan’s motion for a new trial, including expert opinions from practitioners in pediatric radiology, pathology and neuropathology, who all affirmed that the standards for making a diagnosis of Shaken Baby Syndrome have changed significantly since the time of Alan’s conviction in 2003. They also shared medical facts that were overlooked in 2003 but are now known to cause the same findings that can be mistaken for Shaken Baby Syndrome. Their testimony helped elucidate the complex factors that led to the child’s death, including infection, pneumonia, a bleeding disorder, septic shock, and metabolic abnormalities.

In his opinion, Judge Brown concluded, “This shift in understanding by the medical community raises a strong probability of a different result on retrial.”

While this is an important step in the right direction, and, of course, life-changing for Alan and his family, far too many people remain behind bars because of this flawed and outdated hypothesis.

Thank you for helping our clients like Alan get a second chance after wrongful conviction!


Kate Judson