Appeals Court Overturns Conviction of Texas Man Accused in 1999 Death of Toddler

15 years ago, Neal Robbins was convicted of killing his girlfriend’s toddler, a 17-month-old girl who was believed to be asphyxiated while his mother was out running errands. Robbins, a Willis, TX man, has been in prison for 15 years and was sentenced to life in prison. Now, his conviction has been overturned by an appeals court based on new Texas legislature passed last year, according to the Chronicle.

The article states that the legislature passed makes it possible for courts to reconsider cases that were decided on questionable scientific evidence. Originally, the medical examiner determined that the death of Tristen Rivet was homicide, however she admitted years later that the manner of death in the toddler’s case should have been “undetermined.” Robbins appealed his conviction in 2011 after the medical examiner reassessed the evidence, however his appeal was narrowly denied. Now, because of the new legislature passed last year, Robbins has successfully appealed his conviction based on he reevaluation of Rivet’s autopsy. Robbins, who is now 39 years old, remains in a Beaumont prison while prosecutors determine how to move forward.

Tristen’s mother, Barbara Hope, allegedly found the toddler in her crib after she had come in from running errands. She said that Tristen was cold, had blue lips, and was not breathing. She took the toddler outside and with the help of a friend and neighbor attempted to perform CPR. Tristen was pronounced dead about an hour later at a local hospital. It was then that the medical examiner determined the toddler had been asphyxiated. Prosecutors alleged that Robbins pressed down on the toddler’s chest to kill her intentionally.

Moore said upon recanting her testimony that she had gained experience since the 1999 death, experience that led her to believe the toddler’s bruises could have been caused not by an assault, but by aggressive CPR.

The appeals court found that had the medical examiner’s re-evaluated opinion been available at Robbins’ initial trial, he would not have been found guilty of homicide.

Now the decision of whether or not to take Robbins to trial again on the charges will have to be determined by prosecutors. A Montgomery County prosecutor who handles appeals said that they would have to review the entire case and review their legal options before making a decision about how to move forward.

Michigan criminal appeals attorneys know that this result is highly unusual, and that it is rare that an appeals court overturns a murder conviction. However, the medical examiner’s re-evaluation of the manner of death is compelling. Considering the young age of the child, it is very possible that Robbins was simply trying to save the child and was too aggressive in his efforts.

There are occasions on which innocent people are wrongly convicted. In this case, a man has spent 15 years in prison for a crime he may not have committed. Had the new legislature not been passed last year in Texas, he may have spent life behind bars. While we cannot say at this point whether Robbins is innocent or guilty, it appears that his case does deserve a second chance.

The appeals process is highly complicated, and appeals courts do not make it a habit to overturn verdicts determined in lower courts. However, if you have a strong case with compelling grounds to appeal, it is essential that you work with an experienced Michigan criminal appeals lawyer who is skilled in the appeals process.

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