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Family of Tasha Shelby continues to fight for her innocence

Tasha (on right) pictured with her siblings (Photo courtesy of Free Tasha Shelby/website)

The family of Tasha Mercedes Shelby is once again asking for the court to declare her innocence after being held in prison for nearly three decades.

In early June of 1997, Shelby transported her two-year-old stepson, Bryan Thompson, to the hospital after the toddler had fallen out of his bed. Shelby told police that she checked on Thompson — who had a history of experiencing seizures — after hearing a noise, later finding him lying on the floor.

After several days, Thompson was determined to have died from Shaken Baby Syndrome by former Mississippi state medical examiner Dr. Leroy Riddick, prompting officials to arrest Shelby in Biloxi.

Three years later, Shelby was convicted for the death of her stepson and was sentenced to serve life in prison without parole. She had no criminal record prior to her sentencing.

Two decades after Thompson’s death, Riddick was asked by the Innocence Project to review the toddler’s medical history and use updated medical findings on Shaken Baby Syndrome to make a new judgment on the child’s death.

Upon further investigation, Riddick, who had not seen Thompson’s medical history prior to declaring his cause of death, attributed the child’s passing from “hypoxic encephalopathy with herniation due to a seizure disorder.”

Despite Riddick’s change of Thompson’s cause of death and numerous individuals arguing for her innocence, judges have continued to keep Shelby in prison for charges connected to Thompson’s death.

Shelby’s aunt, Penny Warner, has fought for Shelby’s release for decades, arguing that it would be nearly impossible for the then 25-year-old to murder her own stepchild.

“The judge said, ‘Well we can’t give the keys to the prison to the doctors.’ My thought was, ‘Well, you gave them the keys to put her in there,’ because that’s the only reason she was arrested was based upon his autopsy,” Warner said. “So don’t tell me you can’t give the keys to the doctor because you did, so give them back so he can let her out.”

Warner explained during an interview on The Gallo Show that numerous medical officials and investigators have stated in court that it would be nearly impossible for Shelby to cause Shaken Baby Syndrome in Thompson due to her small stature. At the time of her arrest, Shelby was only 4 foot 9 inches. Thompson was measured to be around three feet tall prior to his passing.

Still, Shelby’s family has faced repeated issues in the court despite Riddick’s change of opinion, keeping the almost 50-year-old in prison for years.

“He had determined he had made a mistake,” Warner explained. “He went and had his medical license reinstated so that he could change the death certificate from homicide to accident. Of course, we thought she would be coming home and after 26 years, she’s still there.”

During one of the family’s most recent efforts to prove Shelby’s innocence, Harrison County Circuit Court Judge Roger Clark chose to decline the appeal in her case based on Riddick’s original testimony rather than his updated statement.

“Shaken baby syndrome may have been involved in legitimate debates in the years since Bryan’s death and Shelby’s trial but it has not been ‘debunked’ as alleged,” Clark wrote as his reasoning for the decision.

Warner added that Shelby’s family continues to face issues in court despite efforts to prove her innocence through updated medical findings and statements from numerous professionals.

“We feel like there’s something here going on that we don’t know about. It’s almost as if they have a personal vendetta against her,” Warner stated. “Her lawyers present evidence after evidence, expert after expert and they always say, ‘Nothing new to see here. You get to stay in prison.'”

At this time, Shelby’s family is planning to send their attorney to the Mississippi Supreme Court to ask permission to file another appeal.

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