Shawn Brown’s Conviction Overturned

By Torn Family Board Member Jeremy Praay


I first read about Shawn Brown’s case shortly after his conviction in 2010. As I learned more about it, I was struck by how similar it was to so many other “shaken-baby” cases. It was, in essence, a “triad only” case. For all intents and purposes, there were no other outward or internal signs of abuse, just the internal findings of subdural and retinal hemorrhaging. These have often been described as the most dangerous cases to prosecute, since the possibility of other causes (other than abuse) are often overlooked. Recently, I have become uncomfortable with the phrase “triad only,” and feel that it’s essentially a “diagnosis only” case. If not for the shaken-baby diagnosis itself, the prosecution would have no case for abuse. None. The entire case rested on a diagnosis.

The day that Shawn Jr. lost consciousness, Shawn had been hurrying down the stairs with his son in a car seat. He lost his balance, and Shawn and his son fell down several steps. The baby was not crying, so Shawn didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about it. Later that morning, others had spent time playing with the baby, and no one noticed anything out of the ordinary. That afternoon, Shawn was bottle-feeding him when his son began to choke, then became unresponsive. Shawn panicked and patted the baby on the back, but when that didn’t help, he got a family friend to come over. She tried doing infant CPR, but soon realized it was not helping. They drove the baby to the hospital.

At the hospital, initially Shawn was told that the baby was choking, and they needed to get him breathing again. But when the first hospital was unable to properly care for the infant, he was transported to another hospital. Once there, the “shaken baby” allegations began. Shawn was told that his son had “old and new” bleeding on the brain.

At sentencing, Shawn made the following statement, which has continued to have an impact on me to this day:

I’d just like the courts and both of the families know that I am truly suffering just as much as loss and grief as them. This was my only son, my only biological son, a spitting image of myself. Every day that I wake up, I mean, it tears me apart to know that my son isn’t here by me, you know what I’m saying, still here in the presence. I think that – that it’s truly a hard situation to cope with yourself when, you know, I’m sitting here being charged for killing my son when I didn’t. I mean, there’s no other words to say that but I’m truly, truly hurt and just as in much in pain as anyone in this courtroom.

In late 2013, I mentioned Shawn’s case to the Michigan Innocence Clinic, and they began an investigation, later deciding to pick up his case. The Claim of Appeal was filed in April of 2017. The case was remanded back to the trial courts for an evidentiary hearing, where appellants, in Michigan, are allowed to present new evidence. In July of 2018, the trial court finally rendered its decision, denying Shawn a new trial.

In July of this year, the Michigan appeals court finally overturned Shawn’s conviction, agreeing with the Michigan Innocence Clinic that Shawn had ineffective trial assistance in failing to get an expert witness to present the opposing viewpoint. While it is good to see an injustice righted, nothing can overturn the pain that Shawn expressed in court that day.

More on Shawn’s overturned conviction can be found here: