On May 17, 1992, 31-year-old Letha Jean Hockersmith took her adopted two-year-old daughter, Megan, to a Tulsa, Oklahoma hospital. She said the girl had fallen two days earlier in their home in Sandy Springs, Oklahoma.
Three weeks later, on June 5, 1992, Megan died of respiratory failure.
A Tulsa County medical examiner said he found evidence of retinal hemorrhaging and bleeding that caused the girl’s brain to swell, indicative of Shaken Baby Syndrome. The medical examiner ruled the death a homicide.
In March 1993, Letha Jean and her husband, Terry, were charged with first degree murder. The murder charge against Terry Hockersmith was dismissed by prosecutors shortly thereafter.
Letha Jean went on trial in the spring of 1994 and prosecution medical experts said that Megan had died after being severely shaken. The defense called medical experts who testified that the girl’s injuries were consistent with an accidental fall.
Letha Jean testified that she had a disability known as reflex sympathetic dystrophy in her left arm that left her incapable of violently shaking the child.
On April 18, 1994, the jury convicted her and she was sentenced to life in prison.
In 1996, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the conviction because the trial judge had given erroneous instructions on the meaning of willfulness to the jury.
Letha Jean was released on bond and went on trial a second time in Tulsa County District Court in May 1999. The prosecution again presented medical testimony that the child’s injuries were the result of being violently shaken.
By that time, Letha Jean, who changed her last name to Simon, had divorced her husband, Terry. Her defense attorney, Donn Baker, presented evidence that Terry Hockersmith violently beat their older child, a five-year-old girl. Baker suggested that Megan’s injuries were the result of similar abuse meted out by Terry, whom Baker said had a volatile temper. Terry was called by the prosecution and denied injuring the child.
Baker also presented the evidence of Letha Jean’s disability, although the prosecution presented evidence that she had the strength to pick up the child, carry the child and bathe her.
On May 25, 1999, after a six-day trial, Letha Jean Hockersmith was acquitted by a jury. No charges were subsequently filed against Terry Hockersmith.
– Maurice Possley