Updated: April 13, 2014 at 10:34 am
When Edward Montour killed a prison guard at the Limon Correctional Facility in 2002, he was serving life in prison for a crime his defense lawyer says he didn't commit - the murder of his 11-week-old daughter, Taylor.
On Wednesday, the Colorado Court of Appeals granted a limited remand order for Montour, which means he may get a retrial for the murder.
Montour was living in Colorado Springs when he was arrested for his daughter's death, and the case has been remanded back to the El Paso County District Court for reconsideration.
"The criminal justice system failed him miserably in El Paso County," said Kathryn Stimson, a defense attorney who will represent Montour if a retrial is granted. "It's important that the truth be on the record ... he should have never been in prison."
Flawed science, an incompetent coroner, and an ineffective defense lawyer, who has since lost his license to practice law, led to wrongful conviction in 1998, she maintains.
In February, the El Paso County Coroner's office amended the death certificate for Taylor Montour, changing the cause of death from homicide to undetermined. Doctors who previously testified that fractures in X-ray images were a result of deliberate physical abuse are retracting their statements. Stimson said that doctors then failed to see that the X-ray images shown weren't fractures, but rickets, a metabolic disorder that weakens the bones.
Stimson was on the team of lawyers who introduced the new evidence in Montour's sentencing for the murder of 23-year-old prison guard Eric Autobee last month in Douglas County.
Prosecutors sought the death penalty in Montour's sentencing hearing last month; he pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.
In seeking the death penalty, prosecutors were required to present aggravating factors-facts or circumstances that increase the severity or culpability in a crime. In Colorado, one of those factors includes a prior murder conviction.
In countering that aggravation in a motion to get the death penalty dropped, Stimson presented medical evidence that sought to cast doubt on Montour's guilt in the death of his daughter.
After the evidence was introduced, prosecutors dropped the death penalty in exchange for a guilty plea and Montour was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
He'll spend the rest of his life behind bars for the murder of Autobee, even if he's granted a retrial, and even if his conviction is overturned. It's about justice, Stimson said. It's about the possibility of exonerating him in a conviction that she argues drove him to insanity, and that culminated in the murder of Autobee, who was hit over the head with a ladle in the Limon Correctional Facility kitchen, where Montour worked.
It will also serve to help the system understand that "shaken baby" cases are difficult cases, said criminal appeals attorney Dean Neuwirth, who helped file the motion for the remand. "Now we're starting to realize that several people have been wrongly convicted in these cases," he said.
As in the case of DNA technology, scientific advances have served to clear many innocent people of wrongful convictions in baby deaths, he said.
Stimson said it's common for the science surrounding pediatric cases to change. "No coroner in present day would have ruled the baby's death as a homicide," she said.
In her opening arguments for last month's sentencing hearing, she told the judge that Montour and his wife were excited to have Taylor. But the baby was born premature, suffered from pneumonia, liver disease and undeveloped lungs and spent her first month of life in a hospital. No one at the time knew she had rickets, Stimson said.
Taylor had been home from the hospital for several weeks when Montour accidentally dropped her, Stimson told the court. He was burping her on his shoulder. As he reached for a spit up rag, the baby arched her back, fell from his arms and hit the floor, she said. Several hours later, he and his wife noticed that her breathing was shallow, so they set up an appointment with a pediatrician.
Taylor stopped breathing before they got there.
Stimsom further told the court that a 9-1-1 dispatcher mistakenly gave a distressed Montour CPR instructions for a 3-year-old. When paramedics arrived they broke Taylor's leg while trying to insert an intraosseous needle into the bone marrow, and mistakenly inserted an oxygen tube into her stomach.
The baby also suffered from a rare and life-threatening disorder called disseminated intravascular coagulation, Stimson told the court. The disorder prevents blood from clotting normally.
But none of that information was told to the jury in 1998, and furthermore, it was ignored by the El Paso County coroner at the time, she said. Stimson argues that the coroner, jumped to conclusions in ruling the death a homicide, and Montour's defense attorney let false testimony go unchallenged.
"He was painted by the criminal justice system as a monster that he is not," she said. The El Paso County district court now has nine weeks to rule on a motion before they are required to file a status report to the state appeals court.