iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — A Texas prosecutor has announced his intention to retry Hannah Overton, who has spent the last seven years in prison for the 2006 salt poisoning death of her adopted son.
The devout Christian was convicted in 2007 of killing her 4-year-old adopted son, Andrew Burd, and sentenced to life in prison. Her family and attorneys have been fighting for her release ever since and just last month, the state appellate court overturned that conviction.
Nueces County District Attorney Mark Skurka said in a news release Saturday that he would retry Overton on the original charge of capital murder and that “no jury, no trial judge and no appellate court has ever found that defendant Hannah Overton is not responsible for the death of Andrew Burd.”
Overton’s attorney, Cynthia Orr, said that when she read those words she was “outraged.”
“I think it is clearly unprofessional,” Orr told ABC News. “The presumption of innocence is something prosecutors should hold dear because that is what the entire system of justice hinges on.”
When Orr delivered the news to her client in prison, she said that Overton’s reaction was “calm but confident she will be vindicated and looks forward to the opportunity to clear her name.”
Her husband, Larry Overton, told ABC News on Sunday that after he learned of the DA’s decision he was “disappointed.”
“I had hoped that Mark Skurka would look at the lack of evidence in the case and allow our family to heal from our son’s death and my children to have their mother back without wasting time,” he said. “This is the same unfortunate and misguided conduct that the DA in Nueces County seems incapable of correcting.”
Skurka also had the option to retry Overton on lesser charges, offer a plea deal or dismiss the case. It is unclear whether he will try the case himself or assign a new prosecutor.
The original prosecutor, Sandra Eastwood, was terminated for reasons unrelated to this case years after the trial concluded. Overton has accused Eastwood of acting unethically in her case, something Eastwood has denied repeatedly.
The appellate court did not rule specifically on Overton’s claims of prosecutorial misconduct, saying that she deserved a new trial on claims of ineffective counsel.
However, three of the judges issued a concurring opinion saying the proceedings in the case were “problematic from the beginning” and cited both issues involving Eastwood, as well as Overton’s trial attorneys, who failed to call a salt poisoning expert to the stand.
At Overton’s original trial in 2007, the prosecution portrayed her as a mother who had lost control. Frustrated with a naughty child, prosecutors said, she tried to punish him with seasoning mixed in water.
The defense presented the jury with a medical mystery. They speculated Burd might have had pica, an eating disorder characterized by an obsessive appetite, and that he accidentally poisoned himself by consuming a fatal amount of sodium.
Witnesses outside the home said they had seen Burd’s bizarre habits, too. The day he died, Overton said she found him in the kitchen pantry but could not determine what he had consumed, if anything.
To find Overton guilty, jurors had to believe either of two scenarios: that she force-fed Burd salt knowing it would kill him or that she neglected to get medical help fast enough. They convicted her based on the latter argument, that she did not seek help quickly enough.
Overton told 20/20 in 2008 that she did not regret trying to adopt Burd.
“I wouldn’t take that away,” she said at the time. “He had brothers and sisters and a mommy and daddy, what he called his forever family, because we had to go through a lot of pain since then. It’s not fair to him. Or to us.”
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