Monday, September 29, 2008

Failure to Act a Capital Crime?

by Diane Fanning

Guilty by omission. In other words, the defendant is found responsible for another person’s death by not acting quickly enough to save that life.

A fair enough charge. If someone sits by and watches while another person is clearly in medical distress, there should be a penalty.

But capital murder? Capital murder convictions, we’ve been told, are reserved for the worst of the worst—for the crimes that we all find inconceivable and horrendous. In Texas, a capital conviction means the defendant receives the death penalty or life without parole. These ultimate penalties are intended to be used for the most heinous crimes.

But a jury in
Corpus Christi found Hannah Overton , the biological mother of five, guilty of capital murder for failing to act quickly enough to get medical attention for an ailing child.

That’s right, according to an in-depth
investigative piece written by stellar journalist John MacCormack in the San Antonio Express News, the jury did not believe, as the prosecution alleged, that Hannah intended to harm or kill Andrew—they simply believed she took too long to get him help. The judge’s instructions led the jurors to believe they had no other choice. They did not know that their guilt by omission conviction would result in the ultimate punishment under the law.

Hannah and her husband Larry were fostering Andrew Burd and working toward his adoption.
Child Protective Services claimed Andrew was a perfectly healthy child when they placed him in their home. But it simply was not true: Andrew had an unhealthy obsession with food. Not only did he gorge on foods in the refrigerator, he also ate inappropriate items.

If they left a bar of soap in the bathroom, Andrew took a bite out of it. He’d eat any food left behind in the cat’s dish. He ate toothpaste. He once broke a glow-stick and tried to eat it. Hannah and her adoption counselor were seeking help for his condition, known as

The day of Andrew’s death, Hannah made Cajun stew seasoned with
Zatarain’s spice. Andrew loved the hot flavoring and his insatiable appetite did not diminish after eating. In order to soothe him, Hannah sprinkled Zatarain’s into water in his sippy cup.

Soon after, Andrew exhibited symptoms of
hypernatremia, sometimes caused by salt poisoning. Typically, victims are not recognized as being critically ill for an hour and a half. On the outer edge of that window of time, Hannah and Larry entered the emergency room with Andrew. They drove him in their car because they thought there was not enough time to call 9-1-1 and wait for the arrival of an ambulance.

The jury’s rejection of the prosecution’s belief in intentional poisoning made sense to Dr. Michael Moritz, an expert on salt poisoning. He arrived in Corpus Christi to testify for the defense but he was never called. He told John MacCormack, “There is no evidence of force. No salt on the body. No lacerations to his mouth. No salt crystals in his mouth or nose. . . . If you go into the literature, in every single case of alleged salt poisoning, they were kids just like him… There’s nothing to say he didn’t dump the whole damn thing of Zatarain
or the salt shaker into his drink. A normal kid won’t eat it because it’s unpalatable. But this is not a normal kid. He’s having a highly stressful day. He’s a gorger. He’s got pica. And boom. He gorges it and ten minutes later, his brain is starting to shrink.”

So how did
Hannah end up in such a mess?

At one point after Hannah’s arrest, Child Protective Services submitted an affidavit with a long list of
child abuse allegations in the household. But that could have been a cover-up for their failure to act when Hannah requested a referral for Andrew’s pica problem. Every point was proven to have no basis in fact—all twenty accusations were shown to be false and CPS dropped the case. The employee who wrote the affidavit, no longer works for the agency.

On the forensic front, the autopsy was flawed. Although the pathologist ruled the death a homicide, he admitted on the stand that he could not be certain of his own determination. In addition, he never analyzed the contents of Andrew’s stomach or examined the microscopic sections of key organs that could have shown his underlying condition.

Further, in the trial itself, the prosecutors never called one of the witnesses on their list, including the doctor who treated Andrew, and they never disclosed to the defense the opinions they received from this doctor.

It seems as if law enforcement and the prosecution lost their way in an extreme cas
e of tunnel vision. They could only see one possibility and refused to look at any others. The judge appeared to aid and abet their prosecutorial misconduct by instructing the jury in a way that led to a mandatory sentence of life without parole for a crime that the jury believed was committed without premeditation, without intention to harm or murder, and without malice.

Even the jury’s decision of negligence is considered unrealistic by medical experts. But even if you do agree with the jury, how could any reasonable person believe that a faulty judgment call merits total banishment from society for life?

The case is under appeal at the
Texas 13th Court of Appeals—I fervently hope that common sense and justice will prevail.


angelin said...

Whoever commits the crime of aggravated rape shall be punished by life
imprisonment at hard labor without benefit of parole, probation, or
suspension of sentence. However, if the victim was under the age of twelve
years ... the offender shall be punished by death or life imprisonment at
hard labor without benefit of parole, probation, or suspension of sentence,
in accordance with the determination of the jury(3).


Internet Marketing

FleaStiff said...

Pica? Probably more serious than that. Prader-Willi?
She may simply have left the spice container where he could reach it.
Its not a case for prosecution on ANY charge and certainly not a charge leading to a serious punishment.
Bureaucrats, prosecutors and judge all running amuck.
And ofcourse the new State Religion: Medicine!
What a terrible combination.

Diane Fanning said...

Angelin, I think I am missing your point. Would you please clarify?

Leah said...

I don't get Angelin either. I can't believe these foster parents were even charged. I hope they are appealing.

Diane Fanning said...

They are currently awaiting a response from the courts on the appeal.

Anonymous said...

For an act or omission to qualify as murder in the State of Texas, the person must have INTENDED to cause another's death or have KNOWN that their act or omission could endanger human life.

In the facts of this post, it doesn't appear this woman intended to cause the child's death.

Nor does it seem she knew any delay in getting the child to ER could result in death.

The homicide charge was elevated to a capital offense because the deceased was a child. But because this crime should not have been murder in the first place--since there doesn't appear to be any evidence of intent or knowledge--a capital crime was not committed.

At most, this should have been criminally negligent homicide.

Paralegal Sandy said...

Thank goodness for appeals in this situation. Cases like this is what is making it harder for people to step up to the plate and try to help other people. Consequences of taking responsibility just might be too great. And more and more it seems I am hearing of CPS and other authorities getting caught up in blaming someone, becoming over zealous to a point where trying to make a place in the business over rides doing what is right.

SursumTX said...

Hannah is my niece and Andrew was my grand-nephew. While I don't live in Corpus Christi, I attended much of the trial and have researched her case since then. We lost a child whom we'd welcomed into our family as our own, and for the time being have lost the mother who loved him.

I am happy to provide information and documentation upon request. This is a gross miscarriage of justice. Email -

Her appeal was postponed because of Hurricane Ike. No new date yet.

fleastiff -- I believe Prader Willi was considered. The autopsy was so rushed and incomplete that we will probably never know exactly what underlying conditions Andrew had that may have contributed. A diabetic condition, as was indiciated by several markers, could have created elevated sodium levels to begin with, so that it would not have taken as much additional sodium for his levels to become so high.

Hannah caught Andrew getting into the spice cabinet that day. Because of his eating disorder, they had everything in their home that they thought might be dangerous locked away. They did not realize that actual food items could be lethal. When he first vomited and said he was cold, they did not make the connection that it was due to something he'd eaten.

First-hand experience with this case has changed my mind about a lot of things, including the death penalty and, sadly, whether I'd ever be willing to be a foster parent. Had the DA decided to pursue the death penalty, Hannah could be on death row right now for a crime that didn't even occur, much less one she did not commit.

We are cautiously optimistic about her appeal and believe that public opinion could make a difference.

Diane Fanning said...

My thinking exactly, Anonymous. I am, however, skeptical about criminally negligent homicide even been present in this case. I personally questioned whether any reasonable person would have understood the situation any quicker than Hannah and her husband did.
Sursumtx, I hope you will take heart from knowing that in addition to the comments on this blog, I am getting a lot of email in support of Hannah.

Diane Fanning said...

Paralegal Sandy,
Here in Texas, as in a lot of states, CPS has been getting a lot of press for bad decisions or inaction. It is a serious problem and I think part of the blame lays with the state legislators who do not provide enough funds for sufficient staffing at that agency.

SursumTX said...

Forgot to note that the info in the fightcps article that said the Overtons "waited nearly 3 hours" while Andrew "drifted in and out of consciousness" was false.

The same affidavit said Hannah had confessed to beating Andrew and giving him spices in water as punishment.

In a family court hearing, the detective who interviewed Hannah said he did not know where those allegations came from and could not substantiate them.

Those allegations were completely fabricated. Still, the local media repeated them, even though there were media present at the family court hearing. They just stopped repeating the most heinous claims.

“A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes” -- Mark Twain

Anonymous said...

Brings to mind a case where a person should have been convicted of murder by omission. Remember the book Blood & Money? The Texas surgeon accused of murdering his socialite wife. Were Dr. John Hill's original murder charges from intentionally poisoning his wife Joan and/or was he tried for his slow response in getting her medical attention once it was clear she was seriously ill? Hill was a prominent doctor living near Houston's medical center yet he had his wife "treated" at a substandard, out-of-the-way hospital.

SursumTX said...

Hi, Diane --

Yes, I do take heart. Send anyone who's interested my email --

And I support better funding and reform for CPS as well. I've read reports that most CPS case workers are underpaid with as many as 50 cases per case worker. Not surprisingly, there is high turnover. That needs to change. Our children deserve better and it saves us money and grief in the long run as a society.

That being said, I think CPS also need more oversight and accountability. They can sometimes act in an unchecked-power kind of way. And we all know what absolute power does.

Leah said...

I don't believe that the fact that CPS is underfunded is what caused this. Seems to me that they threw Hannah under the bus when they didn't step up during the investigation and the trial. I just don't see how that happened and how they were never called to testify. Its almost as if someone was hedging a bet that Hannah wouldn't be convicted anyway, so they didn't need them to testify??

I didn't realize salt could be deadly. This reminded me of when I was little and lived to suck on boullion cubes. I just loved them and use to steal them because my mother, a nurse, wouldn't let me have them to eat.

Diane Fanning said...

I didn't mean to imply that the underfunding of CPS led directly to Hannah's arrest and conviction. The point I was making is that the underfunding causes some of the endless stream of problems that we are always hearing about regarding CPS. I was thinking the many problems that have arisen because they make snap judgments, have no follow through, and often take no action. The case load of the average CPS worker is more than anyone could handle. It creates an environment that leads to poor performance and our children and families suffer.

SursumTX said...

Leah, many people have learned through this case that salt can be deadly. It was news to me, too.

CPS did not testify. They seemed eager to make Hannah out to be an evil child murderer. The adoption case worker did a conduct a vist, however, and her testimony agreed with what Hannah reported about their last conversation.

CPS presented Andrew as a perfectly healthy child when, in fact, he was not. Wouldn't you think a complete physical & psychological evaluation would be required prior to any adoption? Evidently that's not the case.

CPS failed to do a required home visit in September. When the adoption agency case worker visited just days before Andrew became ill, Hannah expressed her concerns that Andrew's eating disorder had gotten worse and she had begun to suspect that there was something physically wrong with him.

To make matters worse, CPS had dropped Andrew from Medicaid as of Sept. He wasn't officially, legally adopted yet, so he couldn't be on any family policy the Overtons might have had, nor could they easily sign him up again for Medicaid. They had to call his adoption agency case worker to meet them at the hospital so they could get him admitted. Hannah had started the process of getting him re-enrolled for Medicaid but she had been unable to get a social security number for him. I don't know why CPS didn't have one for him, but I do know that getting a SS # is a long process.

Would they have taken Andrew for medical help sooner if they'd known he was insured? I don't know. It probably would have colored my decision had I been in their shoes, quite honestly, since it would not have occurred to me that he might have a life-threatening condition. This is a child who just 30 minutes earlier had been very active, having a tantrum, etc. To have a child go from being highly active to terminally ill in a matter of minutes is outside the scope of my experience.

In a country where 50 million people have no health insurance, another 100 million or so are under-insured, we are going to hold people responsible for mis-reading symptoms in another? I think of when I drove my elderly mom to the hospital because I thought it would be faster than an ambulance. Had she died on the way or shortly afterward, would I have been charged with murder?

If Hannah had sat idly by, it would clearly be a crime. But she did what moms do -- she made him comfortable while she tried to figure out what was wrong. She was not feeling well herself, so she called her husband when Andrew first threw up to come help her. When Andrew didn't stabilize but instead got sicker, they took him for medical help. They simply did not realize this was a case of accidental poisoning.

As Long As I'm Here said...

I live and work in Corpus Christi, and Hannah's case is frequently discussed with anyone who wants to talk about it.

More than one young father has told me of the ridicule and condescension they receive at the hands of an ER doctor, because they took their young child in after they vomited at home.

Oversight and enforcement by CPS is both capricious and tyrannical to the degree that most parents of young children, harbor, as one of their fears the irrational and oppressive intrusion of a CPS worker. I've had more than one friend, whose constitutional rights have been trampled by these belligerents with a badge. It is utterly disgraceful to the degree that one must question whether or not we live in a free society when an arm of the State has such latitude to ignore evidence (Andrew's Tommy Tippy cup is still in the possession of the Overtons), abridge the rights of the accused, and, with the help of the local media convict a loving parent of a heinous crime in the community before one word of trial testimony is uttered.

To underline my point, I feel confident in stating my opinion because my home-schooled children are now grown, married, and living elsewhere.

Diane Fanning said...

Thanks, As Long as I'm Here.
It's good to be reminded that in some areas of the country, CPS acts more like the gestapo than like an agency there to help children and families. I was in another part of Texas recently where an attorney who frequently serves as ad litem for children said, if you have money or connections here, no one cares what you do with your kids but if you're poor or otherwise disenfranchised, CPS will shred your family to pieces. I am still convinced that underfunding is part of the problem but I know there are a long list of sins committed by that department that need to be addressed. Thanks again for your comment.

SursumTX said...

"as long as I'm here" brings up a good question that one of you crime-fighters might answer:
Why would the police not collect the sippy cup and tumbler as evidence?

The Overtons allowed them to search the home and those items were there, untouched.

Diane Fanning said...

I hate to sound cynical, but it seems to be that there is only one reason they wouldn't seize the sippy cup: they were afraid that it would prove their theory wrong.

SursumTX said...

As this is my first "brush with the law," I have to ask -- is that kind of behavior typical in law enforcement? We civilians tend to think stuff happens like it does on CSI. Does anyone have a good estimate of the incidence of wrongful convictions in this country? I've read estimates from .5% to 10% of all those incarcerated.

Leah said...

Who was Hannah's defense attorney?? I think some of the bame has to lie with him.

Leah said...

Who was Hannah's defense attorney?? I think some of the bame has to lie with him.

SursumTX said...

Her defense team included John Gilmore, Chris Pinedo, David Stith and others. Some of them believed so strongly in her innocence that they worked pro bono.

The entire team is listed on the appeal brief which is posted at

I don't personally agree with those who place blame on her defense team. My understanding is that there were several parties on the prosecution side who did not play by the rules. Just as an example, the court asked the prosecutors to stop using delay tactics at least 33 times and that's not even the worst of it.

Having become aware of the issue of wrongful convictions, I am gratefully aware that Hannah has more support and legal help than do many others. Those of us close to her case will never be the same, even after Hannah is released, which I must believe she will be. We will never be able to forget the problem of wrongful convictions and will support legislation to help prevent other families from the nightmare that we're living through.

Leah said...

Wrongfully convicted and wrongfully prosecuted are two different things. You can't necessarily blame a jury for basing their decision on evidence....that is all subjective. I don't think that is the problem with Hannah's case. I'll email you privately so as not to take up any more space here.

A Voice of Sanity said...

In your description I am searching for an actus reus and a mens rea -- and not finding either. What sort of legal system is this?

SursumTX said...

Leah -- I look forward to your email. I haven't gotten it yet - resend perhaps --

You're right -- she was wrongfully prosecuted in the first place. I don't actually blame the jury. The instructions were unclear when I read them. The way it read, as I recall, was that they could either find her guilty of intentionally poisoning Andrew OR guilty of an act of omission, meaning delaying in seeking him medical care. I'll try to get the actual wording.

The judges' poll of the jury found that all 12 said she was guilty of omission. I am grateful that he did the poll.

It seemed that the jury thought that a child had died -- indeed had been "murdered" according to the Medical Examiner -- and someone needed to pay for it.

(I do find fault with the Medical Examiner -- and with a system that provides for NO peer review or objective review of a single person's interpretation of scientific evidence.)

A voice of Sanity -- As I understand it, "mens rea" is the state of mind, meaning the intent. That is one crux of the problem with the case. The appeal refers to it not being there -- that the jury wasn't required to believe there was intent with regard to an act of omission.

The "actus reas" term refers to the omission, I believe. The questions about that for me are: Would getting Andrew to a doctor more quickly have saved him? Based on what I've learned about hypernatremia and the levels of sodium in Andrew's blood, it doesn't appear so. At what point was she legally required to take him to the doctor, did she know that any delay had the potential to harm him, and did she intend for a delay to harm him? Did she really act differently than any reasonable person would in the same circumstances?

Bottom line, is it capital murder to misread the medical symptoms of someone in your care?

A Voice of Sanity said...

Had she fed him salt that would be an actus reus and the mens rea would be implied. However I fail to see why someone in this situation should be expected to show better diagnostic skills than a qualified doctor.

The real crime here was committed by CPS. The actus reus was the deception of the adopting parents and the failure to arrange medical support; and the mens rea would be implied as motivated by the desire to get rid of a problem case.

Even had the mother failed in a duty of care, with no bad motive this is a civil matter, not a criminal one. The parents were not motivated by peculiar religious beliefs or pathology - there is no good reason to doubt that they cared.

Anonymous said...

Voice of Sanity - Even if she did feed him the salt, she would have had to have known it could be fatal for it to be murder.

From the testimony, it appears they were trying to deal with his eating by making his food rather salty, (to slow his eating down.) If he had diabetis insipidis, that additional salt would have been built up in his system & become fatal. In a sense, she could have been responsible for his death, but not criminally responsible.

To charge her with murder was a gross miscarriage of justice!

Anonymous said...

I meant to say "they were trying to deal with his eating disorder."

He would actually eat until he threw up if you let him.

SursumTX said...

Anonymous, you are right about Andrew's eating disorder. They had also tried lemon juice on his 3rd and 4th helpings of food and also tried allowing him to eat as much as he wanted of say, celery or carrots, etc. They gently assured him every day that he would always have enough to eat in their home. Nothing seemed to work.

Hannah also expressed concern to her case worker that Andrew ate as much or more than she & her husband, but didn't gain weight. This is another reason that I suspect the diabetic condition was a contributing factor.

At the same time, the Overtons had been advised by other adoptive parents, I believe, that eating disorders are common in children with emotional deprivation (ED) or reactive attachment disorder(RAD), emotional conditions often found in kids adopted from the foster system. They were told that the increase in his eating problems may have come about because the "honeymoon" period of the adoption was over and kids often act out badly for awhile.

Tragically, it seems like Andrew was in the middle of a perfect storm of physical and emotional turmoil and no one knew what was really going on with him.

Anonymous said...

And there was a car accident just a few weeks before.
It was minor but still trumatic for the kids to see their mother with blood all over her face. (minor cuts & a bloody nose - plus some whiplash)

I hear his eating disorder worsened after this event.

Anonymous said...

Are you absolutely certain these are the correct facts on the Hannah Overton case? Juries are not allowed, by law, to be polled on alternative theories of capital murder. However, the Judge allowed a poll asked by the defense attorney anyway. The jurors were individually asked whether he/she believed the capital murder was by intentionally OR KNOWINGLY (which are two different things)causing the death of Andrew by forcing Andrew to ingest sodium OR by intentionally or knowingly causing the death of Andrew by failing to seek medical attention. The jury chose the later in reaching their verdict, but did feel that Hannah Overton was punishing Andrew (by forcing him to ingest the sodium). In other words, she was being very abusive, but they didn't think she reached the threshold of capital murder until she watched him die for over an hour (and these were not flu like symptoms- the defense came up with that). In Hannah's police video the night of the murder, she said that Andrew drifted in and out of consciousness for over an hour, went into shock and struggled to breathe. She even pulled out her CPR gear (yes, she was a nurse and even had her equipment), but never called 911. Larry Overton told his mother that he didn't call because Andrew was covered with bruises (which he was) and they didn't want to lose their other (biological) children. The Doctor who became the defense darling was only peripherally involved in the case (unlike the Doctors who testified) and totally discredited himself when, after his last examination of Andrew Burd (4 year old victim) shortly before the murder, he wrote a report stating that Andrew had no behavioral or mental problems; this doctor was listed as the number 1 expert defense witness BY THE DEFENSE in their PRETRIAL defense notice; this same Doctor told other Doctors on the first day of Hannah Overton's capital murder trial that "she ought to fry," and he admitted he was not a forensic psychiatrist or psychologist.

Anonymous said...

Lost in Lima Ohio has two excellent articles on the Hannah Overton case. What troubles me is this blog left out that Andrew had festering burns, was covered with scratches from being forced to sleep on exterior plywood, had an inflamed stomach, had NO behavioral problems or eating disorders per Sharon Hamil, the child's continuous foster mother for 18 months- she gave Andrew to Hannah so that he could have a mother and father. Sharon was widowed. This was not a "hurried" autopsy. The medical examiner has served in both Miami and Dallas and is highly respected. A team of Doctors at Driscoll Children's Hospital determined this was child abuse, including a Pediatric Critical Care Doctor who has won world awards. Andrew, the victim here, died from acute sodium poisoning with secondary cause of death, blunt force head trauma. Symptoms would have been anything but flu like (the defense attorneys coined this phrase, along with pica, prader willi, and my favorite... the child abused himself). Andrew had burn marks on his arms that were festering. Hannah admitted on police video to making him sleep on exterior plywood as punishment (Dr. Rotta, ICU doctor, likened it to being in a fight with a porcupine- he was so scratched). Andrew, per the doctors, would have drifted in and out of consciouness for over 30 minutes, struggled to breathe and gone into shock. Hannah was a pediatric nurse, who even pulled out her CPR equipment. She didn't call 911 for the 2 hours this child was in agony because he was covered with scratches, festering burns and bruises and she, obviously, didn't want to get in trouble. As soon as the paramedics did see the burns (the paramedics were called by a clinic employee after Hannah drove him in), they called the police. So, her fears of being caught if she called 911 were well-founded. When Dr Rotta asked Hannah how Andrew got the massive dose of sodium, Hannah told Dr. Rotta that she had given Andrew a slurry of cajun spice mixed only with water, and that he drank the whole thing and wanted more. This was preposterous for a 4 year old child (plus, Andrew did not like spicy foods). She then said that Andrew immediately collapsed on the ground. Symptoms of sodium posioning would have been immediate. Obviously, she fed him the concoction. She knowingly caused the death of Andrew by failing to seek adequate medical treatment. The abuse coupled with her failure to help Andrew led to the capital murder verdict. Someone needs to take up for this little boy.

Anonymous said...

I would also like to add that the child, per Hannah's police interview, went into shock for over an hour. Hannah said that instead of calling 911, she called her paramedic friend in Oklahoma and then looked up shock in her paramedic book. You see, Hannah was not only a nurse, but a paramedic intermediate class graduate. Larry Overton's sister testified that she attended this paramedic class with Hannah and that they, of course, learned about shock and learned about sodium levels in the body.

Anonymous said...

Do we really want to go out on a limb for a woman supported by a church bordering on "cultish" with a family history shaped by crime and murder? With a little boy who was clearly abused by SOMEONE. He was abused in spots that he himself could not reach. This is not a case where DNA will exonerate her. A whole team of doctors found this was child abuse. Hannah received a 3 week trial in a County notoriously known for being lenient on crime. She had 6 retained attorneys at her jury trial. Please consider giving the victim a fair shake. Women are capable of murder.

SursumTX said...

Hello. I was alerted some time ago that there were contrary comments on this blog. With limited time available, I had not returned to read them until recently.

First, I am Hannah’s aunt. The nature of the contrary comments suggests a person or persons who were involved in this case as part of the prosecution team. Let’s be clear about who has an agenda here. Mine is about justice for a person whom I know to be innocent.

I’ll respond to specific points as time and character count allows. Arguing all the points of this case in blog comments seems a poor use of time to me.

I suggest anyone interested read John MacCormack’s article in the San Antonio Express News – “Murder by Omission or Conviction by Design?” – cited by Diane in her article.

John’s the real deal. He dug out the truth about Madelyn Murray O’Hair’s murder. He poured over Hannah’s entire trial transcript, interviewed dozens of people and he doesn’t have a dog in the fight. He summarizes the situation much better than I can.

Here’s the link again:

I also suggest watching 20/20’s coverage:
Part 1 -
Part 2 -
Part 3 -

The 20 / 20 producers were equally as thorough and objective as John. They have, as you can imagine, a formidable legal team who checks everything.

I am not an attorney. I attended the trial and took notes. I met Andrew when we welcomed him into the family, and I know Hannah and Larry. Despite my knowledge of and affection for the Overtons, I attended the trial with an open mind. The sensationalized media reports were such that I wondered whether they’d snapped or had some evil side of which I was not aware. At the end of the trial, I was convinced that what had occurred was a tragic accident followed by a highly biased, tunnel-vision investigation and over-zealous prosecution.

Character Assassination

There are some clear points of what would be termed character assassination in the comments, specifically, “a church bordering on "cultish" with a family history shaped by crime and murder.”

Let’s get that stuff out of the way.

Hannah & Larry’s church members helped them when Hannah was injured in the car accident, came to the hospital to pray when Andrew lay dying, have raised funds for her legal defense, provided groceries, helped with bills, home schooled kids and lovingly cared for them, and continue to stand by them. If that’s a “cult,” sign me up.

Hannah’s biological father denied his paternity of Hannah until she was about 2. Her parents reconciled and married when she was about 3. He was convicted of a murder when she was about 7. I have no idea whether he was truly guilty. At the time, I assumed he was, given my then-faith in the justice system. He spent 7 years in prison, was released when she was 15, and he and Hannah’s mom separated by the time she was 18.

Her biological grandfather on her mother’s side was Marshall Applewhite, the insane leader of the Heaven’s Gate cult. He abandoned Hannah’s mother’s family when Hannah’s mom was 5 and was completely estranged from that time forward. Hannah never met him.

Are we now condemning people for the acts of their relatives, even long-lost relatives?

If so, everyone better check their family tree. And maybe we should lock up people like Woody Harrelson right away, because his dad was convicted of murder, too. (I’m being facetious.)

It seems to me that if someone has a strong case, character assassination would be unnecessary.

SursumTX said...

Hannah’s Medical Background

Hannah was trained as an LVN over ten years before her trial. She worked in the field briefly just after graduation and had not practiced as an LVN for over 8 years. (Ask any RN if they can be replaced by an LVN.)

Hannah passed the LVN course. Larry’s sister did not. At the post-trial hearing, another student who also passed the course, brought the textbook which had nothing about sodium intoxication. He also testified that they were not instructed in that.

Since it took actively-practicing medical professionals, including top pediatricians, at 3 different medical facilities over hours to accurately diagnose Andrew, how is it reasonable to think someone with 10 year old LVN training could do better in an hour and a half?

SursumTX said...

Alleged Abuse of Andrew

A wound-interpretation expert testified that the sores Andrew had were bug bites that had festered because they’d been picked at. Hannah and a Sunday School teacher both testified that Andrew would pick at bug bites. Little kids do stuff like that. Hannah had been told by her pediatrician to treat these bug bites with a dab of Clorox bleach on a cotton ball. Her younger son had them, too, and picked at them. I grew up in Corpus Christi. There are a lot of bugs that bite you. We always used Clorox on them. Or clear nail polish on chigger bites.

The “bruises” including those “in places he couldn’t reach” were, according to the wound interpretation expert, due to handling Andrew when his blood had become very, very thin due to the sodium. At trial, she pointed out the shapes of tape marks and other places were medical intervention had caused the marks. Marks on his back and buttocks were from the blood pooling. Some photographs shown at trial were from the morgue, after death.

The day before Andrew became ill, he’d smeared feces all over his sheets and foam mattress. The sheets were permanently stained. Larry tried to throw them away, Andrew kept dragging them through the house so Larry finally took them, stuffed them out of sight in the BBQ, and burned them. He freely admits this. They had a brand new set of Spiderman sheets for Andrew, given by church members and family at his welcoming shower. Sounds like a harried dad solution to me.

The foam mattress was also soiled. Larry hosed it and cleaned it outside. It was still wet that night. They tried to put Andrew to bed in his older brother’s bed but he threw a fit. So they put him with a sleeping bag on the smooth, sanded plywood of his bunk bed. He threw off the covers and climbed out several times until they finally put him on the floor in their room next to the bed. Sounds like a harried exhausted pair of parents’ solution to me.

Anyone who’s raised a child knows that toddlers and young children can be trying. And their behavior can change rapidly as they develop.

If any of that is abuse, then come arrest me and every other parent I know.

SursumTX said...

Hannah’s Statement to Police

I’ve combed through the transcript of the interrogation. At no time does Hannah say that Andrew “drifted in and out of consciousness.” The interrogating detective, husband of a woman who at that time was a CPS supervisor, clearly decides early on that Hannah abused Andrew and interprets everything in that light. The “drifting in and out of consciousness” phrase was started by the prosecution and repeated by the media.

By the way, the former CPS supervisor was later convicted of falsely accusing someone else of child abuse and did time in the county jail. Her husband, the former detective who interrogated Hannah, was on suspension and is no longer a detective, I’m told.

Hannah does not say Andrew “went into shock.” She said that just before they left for medical attention she pulled out her CPR book to look up symptoms of shock because she didn’t understand what was going on with him and began to wonder if he were in shock.

Hannah did say that Andrew’s breathing began to sound as though he was becoming congested. She got a nebulizer that she had from when her older son had asthma and gave him a breathing treatment, which seemed to help. The detective jumped to the conclusion that she’d administered oxygen to him when she told him about the nebulizer.

The Overtons decided not to call 911 because the Driscoll Children’s Hospital Urgent Care Clinic was just minutes away and at that time Andrew’s vital signs – breathing, pulse, retinas – were are normal. Hannah had been told that if those signs are normal they don’t come “with the flashing lights.” They thought they’d get him there faster if they drove him themselves.

When then-Detective Hess asks Hannah how long it was from the time she realized something was seriously wrong before they left for medical attention, she answers “5 minutes.”

SursumTX said...

Larry’s Mom

I’ve spoken to Larry’s mom, who told me what she recalls being said that day. She did not mention Larry saying anything about bruises or taking away their other children. She did tell me that the prosecutor offered to go easy on Larry if she, Larry’s mom, would testify against Hannah. I believe there is a sworn affadavit to that fact.

SursumTX said...

Andrew’s Prior Behavior with Foster Mom

Again, anyone who’s raised a child knows that as they develop, kids' behavior and reactions change. They didn’t invent the ‘terrible twos” phrase for nothing. Thing is, with lots of kids, the “terrible” doesn’t start until they’re 3 or 4 or even 5.

Case in point: recently a friend’s 3 year old was at my office. I’ve babysat this child and he’s always been adorable, even-tempered and well mannered. But on Friday his mother was having surgery and he had multiple screaming meltdowns when we wouldn’t allow him to play a video game endlessly when his dad needed to leave with him. He’s three and he’s stressed because he senses the anxiety about his mom.

Andrew’s eating disorder and tantrums escalated rapidly after the car accident in which Hannah was injured and he saw her face covered with blood.

Multiple Sunday school teachers testified about his eating disorder and his tantrums and the fact that they’d reported these things to his foster mom. Sharon Hamil also testified that Andrew’s behavior changed when he was around other kids. (Again, if you’ve raised a kid, that’s not unusual.)

Isn’t it reasonable that a child’s behavior could change dramatically in a new situation, with multiple kids, and a highly stressful event in which his new mom was injured? Especially if that child came from the foster system because of abuse and neglect?

Bottom line for me on this case is that there was no abuse, but instead a medical situation that was so out of the ordinary that even these practiced parents, with limited medical training, did not know how to deal with it. They did not realize he’d eaten something toxic. Even so, within 1.75 hours from when he first threw up, he was at an urgent care clinic.

That’s all I’ve got time for today, except to note that the Lost in Lima blogger contacted me and asked for information that required some time to dig up. Before I had time to respond, she’d written a condemning article. As I said, this is not my full time job, and my time is limited. God bless her and may He open her heart and mind to truth.