HomeUSTexas Woman Convicted in Toddler’s 2003 Death Is Exonerated

Texas Woman Convicted in Toddler’s 2003 Death Is Exonerated

Rosa Jimenez, a Texas babysitter who had been sentenced to 99 years in prison after being convicted of murder in the 2003 death of a toddler, was exonerated on Monday after years of appeals in which she maintained her innocence and testimony against her was called into question.

On Monday, a Travis County District Court judge granted a motion by the district attorney to drop murder charges against Ms. Jimenez, 40, who had spent 18 years behind bars before her release in January 2021.

In an interview on Tuesday night, Ms. Jimenez said she was happy and ready to move on with her life.

“I’m still trying to reconnect with my kids,” Ms. Jimenez said. “It’s not easy. They’re already grown.” She noted that hours after the charges were dismissed, she became a grandmother.

In 2005, Ms. Jimenez was convicted in the death of 21-month-old Bryan Gutierrez, who died after choking on a wad of five paper towels while in Ms. Jimenez’s care at her home in Austin. To convict her, prosecutors relied on experts who testified that it was impossible that the death had been an accident.

But that testimony would be called into question years later.

Ms. Jimenez was released from jail in 2021 on an order from Judge Karen Sage of Travis County District Court, who concluded that she was “likely innocent” and had been be subjected to a trial that included “false and misleading testimony” and was “infected with constitutional error.”

Ms. Jimenez’s release came after a panel of experts in pediatric airways testified that Bryan’s death most likely had been an accident. The prosecution’s expert, who originally testified that it was impossible for the death to have been an accident, also submitted an affidavit stating that her opinion had changed.

In May, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals agreed with Judge Sage’s conclusion and sent the case back to Travis County District Court for a new trial.

But there would be no new trial.

José Garza, the Travis County district attorney, filed a motion to dismiss the charges against Ms. Jimenez.

“It is clear that false medical testimony was used to obtain her conviction,” Mr. Garza said in a statement after Judge Sage granted the motion. “Dismissing Ms. Jimenez’s case is the right thing to do.”

The case drew widespread attention among Mexican immigrants living in the United States after it was featured in a 2007 Spanish-language documentary called My Life Inside.

Numerous appeals to overturn the case over the years proved unfruitful, including a petition to the United States Supreme Court in 2012 that was supported by the former president of Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto, who was president-elect at the time.

Ms. Jimenez was a teenager when she came to the United States from Mexico in 1999. She had a 1-year-old daughter in 2003 when she was arrested. She gave birth to her son while in custody.

Though she was free for the past two-and-a-half years, Ms. Jimenez said, the “stressful” thought that she could possibly have to face another trial lingered.

Monday’s ruling changed that.

“You know you can move with your life without worrying that you are going back to that place,” Ms. Jimenez said. “That place that robbed me from everything that I love, everything that I care about.”

Vanessa Potkin, Ms Jimenez’s lawyer, who works at the Innocence Project, a nonprofit organization that advocates for the overturning of wrongful convictions, said that being exonerated “makes a big difference for wrongfully convicted people when they’re trying to build their lives.”

Still, Ms. Jimenez, who suffers from advanced kidney disease and has been receiving dialysis treatment for nearly two years, faces another challenge — finding a kidney donor.

“She’s at end-stage,” Ms. Potkin said, “so this really is a lifesaving transplant at this point.”