A Tragic Accident Turned Into a Nightmare
Rosa Jimenez, a former babysitter who was convicted of murdering a toddler in her care in 2003, has been officially exonerated by a Texas judge on Monday, August 7, 2023. Jimenez spent 18 years in prison for a crime that never happened, according to the Innocence Project, a nonprofit organization that works to free the wrongly convicted.
Jimenez was accused of killing 21-month-old Bryan Gutierrez by forcing a wad of paper towels down his throat, causing him to choke and suffer brain damage. He died three months later in the hospital. Jimenez, who was an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, seven months pregnant and a mother of a one-year-old at the time, maintained her innocence and said the child swallowed the paper towels on his own while she was in the bathroom.
However, the prosecution presented three medical experts who testified that it was impossible for the child to ingest such a large object without assistance. They also claimed that there were signs of struggle and abuse on the child’s body. Jimenez’s defense was hampered by a language barrier, ineffective counsel, and lack of resources. She was convicted by an all-white jury and sentenced to 99 years in prison.
New Evidence and Legal Battles
Jimenez’s case caught the attention of the Innocence Project in 2009, which found new evidence that contradicted the prosecution’s theory. They enlisted several pediatric airway experts who agreed that young children can and do swallow large objects accidentally, and that there was no evidence of foul play or trauma in Gutierrez’s death. They also pointed out that the prosecution’s experts were not qualified to testify on pediatric airway issues and relied on outdated and flawed assumptions.
The Innocence Project filed several petitions and appeals to overturn Jimenez’s conviction and grant her a new trial. Four Texas judges who reviewed her case in federal and state courts agreed that Jimenez was likely innocent and that Gutierrez’s death was a tragic accident. However, each time, their rulings were reversed or challenged by higher courts or the state attorney general’s office.
In January 2021, Jimenez was finally released on bond after Judge Karen Sage ordered her release pending a new trial. The new Travis County District Attorney José Garza announced that his office would not pursue a retrial and supported Jimenez’s exoneration. However, Jimenez still faced the possibility of deportation and uncertainty about her legal status.
A Long-Awaited Justice and A New Life
On Monday, August 7, 2023, Judge Sage formally dismissed the murder charge against Jimenez and declared her actually innocent of the crime. She apologized to Jimenez for the “grievous injury” that was done to her in the name of justice and acknowledged the harm done to the child’s family as well.
Jimenez expressed her gratitude to everyone who supported her and believed in her. She said she felt like she had a new life ahead of her. She also revealed that she had just become a grandmother as her daughter gave birth minutes before the hearing. She said she was looking forward to meeting her grandchild and spending time with her family.
Jimenez’s case is one of the many examples of how wrongful convictions can ruin lives and undermine trust in the justice system. According to the Innocence Project, nearly 71% of female exonerees were convicted of crimes that never took place, and 40% of them were wrongly accused of harming children or other loved ones in their care. The organization calls for reforms in forensic science, eyewitness identification, false confessions, and other factors that contribute to wrongful convictions.