In February 1999, Victoria Bell Banks was in the Choctaw County Jail in Butner, Alabama when she told police that she was several months pregnant in a ploy to be released. Two doctors examined her, although she refused to submit to a vaginal exam. The first doctor found no evidence of pregnancy, but the second doctor reported hearing a fetal heartbeat. Victoria was released on bond in May 1999 after threatening to sue the county for not providing prenatal care.
In August 1999, the Choctaw County Sheriff asked Victoria about the baby, which should have been born in June, and she said she had a miscarriage. The sheriff was suspicious and called in agents from the Alabama Bureau of Investigation, who questioned Victoria as well as her estranged 27-year-old husband, Medell Banks Jr., and her sister, Diane Tucker. All three were subjected to days of aggressive interrogation with breaks only for sleep. None of the three had an attorney. All three had very low intelligence. Victoria had an IQ of about 40, Medell had an IQ of 57 and Tucker’s was less than 70. All were threatened with the death penalty.
All three told police that Victoria had lied about being pregnant as a way to get out of jail. They said that Victoria had a tubal ligation in 1995 and as a result was unable to get pregnant.
But police didn’t believe them and eventually, Victoria and her sister admitted that a baby was born and claimed that they and Medell murdered the baby. Medell also eventually made statements indicating that a baby may have been born and buried near his home, although he later recanted that statement.
All three were charged with capital murder in September 1999. Victoria pled guilty to manslaughter and agreed to testify against Medell. She was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
In May 2001, Medell pled guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to 15 years, although he maintained his innocence.
Tucker also pled guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to 15 years in prison. In July 2002, her sentence was reduced and she was released after serving one year.
An appeals court granted Medell’s motion to withdraw his guilty plea in August 2002, and awarded him a new trial. The state had maintained that Victoria’s earlier tubal ligation had been unsuccessful and she became sterile not because of the ligation, but because of an infection after the baby was born. However, testing performed at the request of defense attorneys confirmed that her tubes were still blocked, and the results were consistent with a tubal ligation, rather than an infection.
Investigators admitted that they had lied to Medell and that the interrogation was aggressive. This testimony, combined with the physical tests obtained by Banks’s attorneys, convinced the prosecution to dismiss the case. On January 10, 2003 (in exchange for a misdemeanor plea to a charge of tampering with some unspecified physical evidence) the charges were dismissed. Victoria remained incarcerated and has not sought to vacate her conviction.
– Maurice Possley