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Sunday 23 October 2016

'I don't want this to happen to anyone else' - Aisling Brady McCarthy

Aisling Brady McCarthy - the Irish nanny wrongly imprisoned in the US over the death of baby Rehma Sabir - revealed this week that she is to sue the doctor at the heart of the case.

Published 24/01/2016 | 02:30

Stolen years: A court officer accompanies Irish nanny Aisling Brady McCarthy during a court hearing in Massachusetts in February 2014
Stolen years: A court officer accompanies Irish nanny Aisling Brady McCarthy during a court hearing in Massachusetts in February 2014
Aisling McCarthy Brady
British nanny Louise Woodward in 1997.
Former death row prisoner Sunny Jacobs.
Irish exoneree Peter Pringle and his American wife Sunny Jacobs
Homeward bound: Aisling Brady McCarthy arriving in Shannon Airport in September 2 after her ordeal in the United States.

When Aisling Brady McCarthy was finally freed following the dropping of murder charges last August, the Irish nanny left all her possessions in her rented Boston home and boarded the first flight home to Ireland.

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For the first hour of the six-hour transatlantic journey, the innocent Cavan woman just held her sister Sharon's hand and, together, they wept for her two stolen years behind bars.

That was the powerful scene painted in an interview with the Boston Globe at the weekend, in which the vindicated 37-year-old revealed she's set to sue the US prosecutors who wrongly branded her a baby murderer back in 2013.

After losing 28 months of her life in Framingham women's prison in Massachusetts for a crime she didn't commit, she told the paper: "I don't want this to happen to anyone else.

"They weren't just wrong in my case, they were reckless.

"They never lost a minute's sleep. They just moved on to the next case."

Speaking exclusively to Review, Elaine Whitfield Sharp - the trial lawyer who defended British nanny Louise Woodward - backed Ms Brady McCarthy's plan to take civil action against Middlesex County: "Aisling should file a lawsuit.

"There is no way she will ever forget this or completely heal - and she will be under a cloud of suspicion for the rest of her life.

"She deserves compensation. Money won't make the pain go away but it will provide some justice."

When the Lavey native was first arrested for the murder of 10-month-old baby Rehma Sabir in Cambridge, Massachusetts in January 2013, there were echoes of the infamous Louise Woodward 'Shaken Baby Syndrome' case that had rocked the New England county and hit headlines around the world almost 20 years ago.

Although the charge was dropped after the medical examiner reversed its finding that baby Rehma had been "violently shaken" to death last August, by that stage, the newlywed had already spent longer in prison than Woodward, who was convicted of the involuntary manslaughter of eight month-old Matthew Eappen in 1997. As director of the Irish Innocence Project at Griffith College, a non-profit legal organisation committed to exonerating wrongly convicted people, David Langwallner told Review that you don't have to look as far as cult Netflix docu-series Making a Murderer to become "very sceptical about the justice system", particularly where the controversial syndrome is concerned.

"There are many papers on Shaken Baby Syndrome in the Innocence Project," the Dublin-based barrister said. "It's a dominant issue - but there are all sorts of problems with [it].

"There is always a risk of natural death when a child is very young and there can be very defined causes for this. The problem is those causes are sometimes difficult to assess.

"If you're a nanny, or indeed if you're a parent, and the child dies under your care, the implication is something must have caused that death and then, from that, the implication is you must have shaken the child too much in order for that to have happened. It's at that level of inference that things become very dangerous because children can die for a variety of reasons and it doesn't follow that you shook them.

"On top of that, the evidence is obviously always purely circumstantial," he continued. "There is no witness - there's no proof in a concrete way, one way or the other."

"A lot of the times, the nanny is a young Irish girl in a different country, and the parents can often be rich young professionals, which is why they hire a nanny in the first place. Therefore, they can often be powerful and influential and the other person is an outsider.

"Fortunately in her case, if there is a fortunate thing, she wasn't put through the ordeal of a trial process. But two years in prison is a very long time."

Having spent 17 years in prison for a double murder she didn't commit, death-row survivor Sunny Jacobs has some insight into how Ms Brady McCarthy might be feeling as she bids to start afresh with her husband Don in Cork.

"I don't know all of her circumstances, but I do know across the board, of course, it's very traumatic to be accused of something horrible that you didn't do," said Sunny, who runs The Sunny Center for wrongfully imprisoned people with her husband and fellow exoneree, Peter Pringle, in Connemara. "And then you have to spend two years in jail. You lose your job, you lose your reputation, you lose that time with your family.

"Also, it's actually worse in some ways for women, most especially women who have been accused of harming babies because it never goes away.

"There's always someone who says, 'Oh, isn't that the woman who's supposed to have shaken the baby?' That's part of the damage and that never goes away."

Called to give evidence in the trial, it was Dr Alice Newton who first claimed that Ms Brady McCarthy had shaken baby Rehma with the force of a motor vehicle accident.

After reviewing the evidence however, the medical examiner's office later changed the cause of death from homicide to "undetermined", forcing the District Attorney to concede it could not "meet its burden of proof" against the nanny, who was subsequently deported for overstaying her visa. It's not the first time the Office of the State Medical Examiner in Middlesex County has backtracked on alleged cases of Shaken Baby Syndrome. In fact, it's the third in just over a year.

"This is an area of medicine where people have beliefs," argued Dr Peter Cummings, a forensic pathologist and neuropathologist, who trained at the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin and worked at the Boston medical examiner's office until last June. "There are people that believe you can shake a baby, and that every retinal haemorrhage is a shake. On the other side, you have people saying, 'There's no way you [can] shake a baby and cause these injuries'. Once something becomes a belief, you lose all objectivity, and that's where we have the problem.

"Any paediatric death is inherently a complicated case. It takes a lot more scrutiny and it takes a lot more time. Most of the jurisdictions of medical examiners in this country are overworked and understaffed and don't get that time.

"Back in the nineties, I was taught that the 'triad' [trio of injuries - subdural bleeding, retinal bleeding and brain swelling - associated with abusive head trauma] was pathognomonic," explained Dr Cummings, who's also an assistant professor at Boston University School of Medicine, "so if you find this triad, it's shaking, and there's nothing else in the world it can be.

"The truth of it is, are retinal haemorrhages, subdural haemorrhages and brain swelling associated with abuse? Yes they are. But is it causative? No it is not.

"I've looked at, around the world, probably 80 or more of these alleged child abuse cases, and I've only disagreed that it was not child abuse in three times. So it doesn't happen very often, but when it happens, you've got to be ready for it.

"When you're talking about someone's civil liberties, you've got to be sure about that."

In the meantime, women like Aisling Brady McCarthy have been left to pick up the pieces. She told the Boston Globe: "I have changed. I don't trust people like I used to.

"You're nearly afraid to get to know people because they'll say, 'Oh, you're the girl from Boston'. It makes me want to cut my hair off or dye it black.

"If I don't let go, it will consume me," she continued. "I don't want people to feel sorry for me. I want to move on."

But Massachusetts-based attorney and counsellor at law Elaine Whitfield Sharp urged the wrongfully imprisoned former nanny to first file suit - and fast: "If Aisling is going to file a lawsuit, she should do it sooner than later. Certainly she needs time to heal, but the fact is that a lawsuit like this would be subject to a lot of legal challenges at the outset, which a lawyer would handle with minimal involvement of the client. "Aisling cannot sue the District Attorney directly because the DA is absolutely immune from being sued," she said. "She would need to sue Middlesex County that employs the DA on grounds that the County failed to train the DA in one or more federal constitutional rights of criminal defendants.

"The lawyer she chooses would need to petition the US immigration authorities to obtain permission for Aisling to enter the country just for the civil legal proceedings."

Until then, Sunny Jacobs extended an open invitation for Ms Brady McCarthy to visit The Sunny Center, which has welcomed four wrongfully imprisoned people from around the world since opening last April.

"It's a dark cloud that unfortunately stays with you and she'll just have to, in her own time and in her own way, find a place for it in her life and a way to deal with the after effects," Sunny said. "Certainly, she'd be welcome to come and we'd try to help her in the best way we can.

"It helps sometimes just to know that there are other people that it happened to - and that they feel the same way as you."

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