When Julie Baumer rushed her new-born nephew Philipp to the hospital on October 3, 2003, she had no idea what was wrong. He couldn’t keep his formula down for more than a few hours and wouldn’t take a bottle. Philipp was 6 weeks old and has spent the first week of his life in the neonatal intensive-care-unit after a difficult delivery. His mother, Julie’s sister, struggled with drug addiction and had already given up one child for adoption. Not wanting to see another child leave the family, Julie had offered to help care for her sister’s infant.
At the emergency room, a doctor ordered a CT scan for the baby, but it wasn’t carried out until 28 hours later. By that time, Philipp had been at the hospital 33 hours. The scan showed hemorrhaging in the brain and a cracked skull. His diagnosis that day in the hospital was shaken-baby syndrome.
Julie was suspected of violently hurting Philipp and charged with first-degree child abuse.
“I went into my first trial with the idea of obviously the jury is going to see through all of this and they’re not gonna convict me,” Baumer told WUNC in an interview at the Innocence Network Conference in April. “But it was the second week into the trial that I sort of realized I was in some deep water.”
Julie was convicted and sentenced 10 to 15 years in prison. She was devastated.
“I wasn’t allowed to have any character witnesses,” Baumer recalled. “My attorney didn’t bring any medical experts to defend me. We had two medical experts from the state side painting the portrait of a monster. And the jury bought it.”
Julie began serving her sentence. She was put in a cell block that measured six by six feet, which she shared with a roommate, and she was on lockdown 16 hours a day. Friends and family were surprised by her conviction and withdrew from her life, saying “See you in 15 years, if we’re still here,” Julie recounted.
In 2007, a nun happened to see Baumer’s name on a prayer list and paid her a visit at the prison. The nun helped Julie contact a new lawyer, who agreed to take on the case. Eventually, the Michigan Innocence Project took on her defense and Baumer was granted a new trial. The defense presented evidence that Philipp had suffered not from being shaken but from a venous sinus thrombosis (VST), also called a “childhood stroke.” Julie was acquitted and released in 2010.
Although she had no help from the state when she got out, Julie just got a job and is in the process of purchasing a house. It’s a lot to think about after being locked up for over four years in a six foot cell.
“I’m taking it day by day,” she says.
- New York Times article profiling Baumer and other questionable Shaken Baby Syndrome cases
- Detroit Metro Times article on wrongful convictions of child abuse, including Baumer’s case
- Information about Baumer’s exoneration on the Innocence Project