In 2003, when Victoria Baumer decided to give up her baby for adoption, it was her sister Julie who offered to take him in. As Julie later told a New York Times reporter, “I didn’t want to see anyone else leave the family.” The baby had had a difficult birth, spending his first week in intensive care, and Julie had a hard time getting him to take a bottle. At six weeks, when Philipp was unable to keep any food down, Julie took him to the emergency room, where doctors saw that his brain was bleeding and his skull was fractured. A shunt was placed in Philipp’s brain to relieve pressure but it was too late to prevent serious damage. Four months later, Julie was arrested and charged with child abuse.
During Julie’s trial, the doctors who treated Philipp testified that his injuries must have come from trauma sustained in the hours before they observed him and Julie’s lawyer failed to point out flaws in the doctors’ statements. Her lawyer also neglected to hire his own expert to review Philipp’s brain scans, and so the doctors’ claims went uncontested. The prosecution built a case that Philipp suffered from “shaken-baby syndrome,” and portrayed Julie as a violent and uncaring parent. “The jury bought it,” Julie says. “When I was listening to their testimony, I thought I was a monster too. I can understand why they convicted me.” Julie was sentenced to 10 to 15 years.
While in prison, Julie says, she lost her identity. “I wasn’t even my own property, she says, “I was state property.” She spent most of the day locked in a six by six foot cell with another offender, but two years into Julie’s sentence, she met a nun who helped her find new lawyers. With the help of the University of Michigan Innocence Clinic, Julie’s new attorneys found experts to testify that Philipp’s injuries were more likely the result of a stroke than shaken-baby syndrome, and a judge overturned her conviction.
Julie Baumer was exonerated on October 15, 2010. She published her first novel , An Undeserved Sentence in 2012.