Op-Ed Argues Texan’s Execution Based on Discredited Science, Highlights Failure of Texas ‘Junk Science’ Writ  

By Perla Chavez 

AUSTIN, TX – In an opinion piece published Thursday in the Austin American-Statesman, the author charges Robert Robertson is facing execution based on the discredited Shaken Baby Hypothesis, despite Texas’ enacted “junk science” writ.

Keith Findley, founder of the Center for Integrity in Forensic Sciences and co-founder of the Wisconsin Innocence Project, is a former law professor at the University of Wisconsin, and an editor of “Shaken Baby Syndrome: Investigating the Abusive Head Trauma Controversy.”

According to Findley, it’s been 10 years since the “junk science” writ for Texas was passed. The law has allowed Texans to contest convictions based on discredited science. Except, in the case of Robert Roberson.

Nikki, Robertson’s two-year-old daughter, was chronically ill, writes Findley, adding Nikki was ill with pneumonia and received medication unsafe for her age and condition in 2002. After suffering a fall from bed and going back to sleep, she never regained consciousness.

The Op-Ed explains Robertson’s challenges in articulating Nikki’s condition at the hospital was due to his undiagnosed autism. While the hospital staff thought he portrayed a lack of emotion, he was really displaying a non-neurotypical symptom of his autism.

Nikki could not be revived, as stated in the article, and even before the autopsy, a doctor unfamiliar with her medical history suspected her passing to be due to the controversial shaken baby hypothesis and Robertson was promptly arrested.

A prior consensus in the medical community believed a child with Nikki’s symptoms could only have died from violent shaking or shaking combined with impact against a blunt surface, said Findley, but argues for the past 20 years, evidence-based science has discredited every aspect of the shaken baby hypothesis.

The Findley article points out that despite compelling evidence proving Nikki’s death was natural and accidental,  the Texas “junk science” writ failed to defend Robertson.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals halted Robertson’s execution in 2016, sending the case back to trial. The Op-Ed adds expert witnesses testified in 2021, revealing natural causes for Nikki’s death: undiagnosed pneumonia, medication, and an accidental fall.

Brian Wharton, lead detective who initially investigated the case and testified against Robertson, gave testimony in front of the post-conviction court that his stance had changed and justice had not been served, the Op-Ed reveals, adding the court’s decision continued to accept the prosecution’s outdated proposal, ignoring new findings from the evidentiary hearing.

Findley’s Op-Ed noted 32 parents and caregivers in 18 states have been absolved of the shaken baby hypothesis since 1992, and ex-parte Roake, is another case presented before the CCA involving similar testimony from the same expert that testified against Robertson.

As Findley explained in the article, the “junk science” law’s shortcomings are evident in cases like Robert Robertson’s, exemplifying how innocent individuals can slip through the cracks and face execution, and Robertson could be the first person in the nation executed based on the discredited shaken baby hypothesis.

About The Author

Perla Chavez is a first-generation college student that has obtained a paralegal certificate from the UCLA Extension Paralegal Program. Her academic journey includes a major in Political Science with a focus on race, ethnicity, and politics at UCLA. Perla has actively contributed to social justice advocacy through internships with CHIRLA and the NAACP. Driven by her passion to recognize inequalities and advocate for the rights of others, Perla aspires to become an immigration lawyer. Apart from her dedication to academics and the legal field, she finds fulfillment in being a volunteer for the city of California City, spending quality time with family, and expressing creativity through painting.

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