Appeal denied for Biloxi woman accused of killing stepson despite new evidence

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A panel of Mississippi Supreme Court justices has denied Tasha Mercedes Shelby’s appeal request after the Biloxi mother was found responsible for the death of her two-year-old stepson in 1997.

Three judges handed down the decision last week stating that Shelby would not be granted a new trial despite her family’s claims that new evidence would be able to prove her innocence.

In early June of 1997, Shelby transported her stepson, Bryan Thompson, to the hospital after the toddler had fallen out of his bed. Shelby told police that she checked on Thompson — who had a history of experiencing seizures — after hearing a noise, later finding him lying on the floor.

After several days, Thompson was determined to have died from Shaken Baby Syndrome by former Mississippi state medical examiner Dr. Leroy Riddick, prompting officials to arrest Shelby in Biloxi. Three years later, Shelby was convicted for the death of her stepson and was sentenced to serve life in prison without parole. She had no criminal record prior to her sentencing.

Two decades after Thompson’s death, Riddick was asked by the Innocence Project to review the toddler’s medical history and use updated medical findings on Shaken Baby Syndrome to make a new judgment on the child’s death. Upon further investigation, Riddick, who had not seen Thompson’s medical history prior to declaring his cause of death, attributed the child’s passing from “hypoxic encephalopathy with herniation due to a seizure disorder.”

Despite Riddick changing what he believed Thompson’s cause of death to be and numerous individuals arguing Shelby’s innocence, judges have continued to keep the now 49-year-old behind bars for the death of her stepson.

Penny Warner, Shelby’s aunt, has been fighting for Shelby’s release for decades, arguing that it would be nearly impossible for the then 25-year-old to murder her own stepchild.

“The judge said, ‘Well we can’t give the keys to the prison to the doctors.’ My thought was, ‘Well, you gave them the keys to put her in there,’ because that’s the only reason she was arrested was based upon his autopsy,” Warner said during a recent interview on The Gallo Show. “So don’t tell me you can’t give the keys to the doctor because you did, so give them back so he can let her out.”

Warner further explained that numerous medical officials and investigators have stated under oath that it would be nearly impossible for Shelby to cause Shaken Baby Syndrome due to her small stature. At the time of her arrest, Shelby was only 4 foot 9 inches. Thompson was measured to be around three feet tall prior to his passing.

Family members were once optimistic that Riddick’s change of opinion would help get Shelby out of prison, but with the newest ruling, hope is dwindling.

“He had determined he had made a mistake,” Warner said. “He went and had his medical license reinstated so that he could change the death certificate from homicide to accident. Of course, we thought she would be coming home and after 26 years, she’s still there.”

At this time, Shelby’s family has attempted to appeal the case six times since her incarceration, with their next step in the process requiring them to file a motion for reconsideration.

“We feel like there’s something here going on that we don’t know about. It’s almost as if they have a personal vendetta against her,” Warner concluded. “Her lawyers present evidence after evidence, expert after expert and they always say, ‘Nothing new to see here. You get to stay in prison.’”

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