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NU launches research on innocent women who end up in jail

The Center Wrongful Convictions unveils its Women's Project Bluhm Legal Clinic Northwestern University Law Thursday November 29 2012. From left

The Center on Wrongful Convictions unveils its Women's Project at the Bluhm Legal Clinic at Northwestern University of Law on Thursday, November 29, 2012. From left, Karen Daniel, Audrey Edmunds, Judy Royal, Joyce Ann Brown and Gloria Killian. I Stacie Scott~Sun-Times Media

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Audrey Edmunds spent 11 years in prison for shaking a 7-month-old baby to death, even though the Wisconsin day-care operator said she’d only ever shown the baby “the utmost respect, care and love.”

“I was calling on the telephone to 911 and giving her CPR, and I was convicted of utter disregard for human life,” said Edmunds, who was released from prison in Wisconsin in 2008 after an appeals court there ruled new research into shaken baby syndrome might prove her innocence.

Edmunds, now 51, joined a handful of other women downtown Thursday as Northwestern Law School’s Center on Wrongful Convictions launched its “Women’s Project.”

Karen Daniel, a senior staff attorney at the Center, said she hopes the project — aside from helping wrongfully convicted women — will spur research into the particular factors that might contribute to innocent women ending up in prison.

“It’s much more common in women’s cases that false confessions contribute to wrongful convictions than in men’s cases,” Daniel said.

Among other things, the project wants to examine the possible ways that women respond differently during intense interrogations, Daniel said.

Daniel said there’s likely to be an emphasis on cases like Edmunds’, where women are accused of killing a child or a vulnerable adult in their care.

Edmunds said her conviction was based largely on a medical understanding of shaken baby syndrome dating to the 1970s — an understanding that is now discredited, she said.

Edmunds, who said she went into prison just days after her third daughter’s first birthday, said she still doesn’t know what caused the little girl’s death.

On Thursday, she joked with reporters about the pleasure she takes in things people who haven’t been locked up either hate or take for granted.

“It’s wonderful to be in rush-hour traffic,” she said. “It’s great to get to a stop sign and say, ‘Do I want to go left or right?’ All that is taken away from a person (in prison).”



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