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Justice delayed


Pamela Jacobazzi

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Updated: July 22, 2013 6:59PM

Talk about the slow wheels of justice.

Back in 2009, the Illinois Appellate Court agreed Pamela Jacobazzi should get a new hearing into the medical evidence used to send her to prison for murder. But here it is 2013, and she still hasn’t had that hearing. In fact, there’s a good chance her official release date in May 2015 will arrive before the courts get around to deciding whether she was convicted erroneously.

That’s a sad indictment of the snail’s pace at which the criminal justice system often works.

Jacobazzi, 58, is a former Bartlett day care owner who was convicted 13 years ago of murdering a 10-month-old boy in her care.

Jacobazzi didn’t confess, she had no criminal record and no witness saw her shaking the child. But at the time of her trial, swelling and bleeding on the boy’s brain surface — symptoms of so-called shaken-baby syndrome — were enough to convict her. It is only in the years since that some medical experts have decided that symptoms once thought to be caused only by violent shaking can in fact be due to illness.

What the jury that convicted Jacobazzi didn’t know is that the child’s pediatrician was worried about symptoms of internal bleeding and had run tests before the day on which Jacobazzi was accused of shaking him. The child also suffered from a medical condition now thought capable of mimicking signs of shaken-baby syndrome. That’s just some of the evidence that could be aired out at a new hearing.

But the evidentiary hearing isn’t scheduled until Sept. 16. Even if Jacobazzi wins a new trial at that hearing, there’s no guarantee it would take place before her sentence runs out.

Part of the reason for the delay is the time it’s taken for the defense to assemble opinions from pro bono experts. But most of it is just how slowly the system moves. Death Row inmate Randy Steidl, for example, filed for an evidentiary hearing in 1991 and didn’t get it until 1999. And it took five more years for the courts to realize he was innocent and free him.

Gov. Pat Quinn could pardon Jacobazzi. The first step, a hearing before the Illinois Prisoner Review Board, is scheduled in July. But clemency is a slow process, too.

What’s most important in this case is getting at the truth.

But it shouldn’t take forever to do so.

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