Los Angeles

Great Grandmother Freed From Prison After 11 Years for Crime She Didn't Commit

Loyola Law's Project for the Innocent worked to free Maria Mendez

What to Know

  • Maria Mendez was wrongfully convicted of causing the death of her grandson while he was in her care
  • Her attorneys presented new evidence showing that her conviction relied on false testimony by doctors
  • Mendez, who has always denied any role in the injuries that led to her grandson's death, served 11 years in prison

A great grandmother who served 11 years in state prison for a crime she did not commit was released from custody last week after a verdict was overturned.

Maria Mendez was a mix of emotions.

"I can feel the air outside, I can see the birds, I can see the sun when it rises, I feel so happy to be outside," she said in Spanish via Skype from her native Mexico where she was reunited with her family. "Right now I don't want to think about those sad days, because I feel bad."

Attorney Brian Hennigan, of Hueston Henningan LLP,  and Loyola's Project for the Innocent dug deep into the evidence that resulted in Mendez's conviction.

"She was going to wind up, at the age of 64, likely dying in prison," said Brian Hennigan, an attorney with Loyola Law School's Project for the Innocent.

They found hours of testimony that convinced the jury her baby grandson, Emmanuel, had died from massive brain swelling. A doctor and a coroner testified that it was consistent with shaken baby syndrome, a controversial, catchall term used to explain injuries that are hard to pinpoint.

Paula Mitchell, the legal director of LPI said it's more of a legal backstop.

"There just seemed to be very little, in the way of medical evidence, from the very beginning," Mitchell said.

Jurors did not see the results of two CT scan taken right after Emmanuel was hospitalized. The LPI team says they showed conclusively that he did not have massive brain swelling.

The court also did not see autopsy photos, which showed he may have died from injuries suffered in a fall, two days earlier.

"The fact that anybody is convicted under those circumstances, frankly overall, is a bit of a red flag," said Adam Grant, the program director at LPI.

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