Cost of Wrongful Incarceration
$100,734 (in 2015 dollars)
The 911 Call
On September 18, 2012, 21-year-old Jasmine Eskew called 911 in Great Falls, Montana, because her infant daughter, Brooklynn, was not breathing. Not showing any injuries, the doctors suspected Brooklynn was suffering from Shaken Baby Syndrome. Eskew was taken to the police station for questioning.
The interrogation lasted four hours. After repeatedly telling detectives that she did not shake Brooklynn, detectives told Eskew that the sooner she told the truth, the sooner Brooklynn would receive proper medical care–insinuating that Brooklynn may die if she did not falsely confess to shaking her. So she did. Eskew shook the babydoll and told them she shook Brooklynn in the same manner.
The Coerced Confession
Eskew never saw her daughter alive again because two days after calling 911, Brooklynn died at a hospital in Spokane, Washington. The cause of death was blunt force trauma, not Shaken Baby Syndrome. Following Brooklynn’s death, Eskew was charged with deliberate homicide and felony assault on a minor.
Before her trial, Eskew’s attorneys attempted to suppress the confession, arguing it was coerced. Cascade County District Judge Dirk Sandefur found that the officers deliberately lied to Eskew to get her confession. Despite this finding, Judge Sandefur denied the motion and allowed the confession to be presented at trial.
The Trial Proceeds with the False Confession
Eskew went to trial in March 2014. The prosecution presented evidence that Brooklynn died of a fractured skull that resulted in a subdural hematoma and used her coerced confession to prove she struck Brooklyn.
The defense argued that Greg Robey, who was Eskew’s boyfriend at the time, was responsible for Brooklynn’s death. Robey was taking care of Brooklynn in the hours before Eskew noticed she was not breathing, and the injury on her head matched Robey’s ring. The defense also presented evidence that Robey had an abusive past. Eskew, who had given birth to twins prior to the trial, said the pregnancy was a result of Robey raping her on the day Brooklynn was injured. The defense tried to call an expert witness on false confessions, but Judge Sandefur did not allow it.
On April 1, 2014, the jury found Eskew not guilty of deliberate homicide but guilty of felony assault of a child. She was sentenced to five years of incarceration. She served three years before her conviction was overturned and the charges were dropped.
New Trial is Granted Without the Confession
The Montana Appellate Defender appealed Eskew’s conviction on the grounds that the trial was unfair because she was not able to present an expert witness on false confessions and that the confession should have never been admitted. The Innocence Project and the Montana Innocence Project submitted amicus briefs in support of Eskew.
The State Drops the Charge
In February 2017, the Montana Supreme Court reversed Eskew’s conviction and granted her a new trial without the confession. Eskew was released on March 14, 2017, and the prosecution dismissed the charge two weeks later.