|The following article was a front-page newspaper story in the Carroll Star News on January 20, 2008, written by its editor/publisher Sue Horn. © copyright 2008 The Georgia Rail and Press Company. Republished with permission. Carroll Star News, Carrollton, Georgia USA. Five jpg scans of the article and editorial as they appeared in the newspaper are also available on request (2.59 MB). You can read the article on the StarNews website here.|
The real story of Christina Resch Boyer:
Did a "perfect storm" of events lead to life imprisonment?
by Sue Horn
Sunday, January 20, 2008
© copyright 2008 The Georgia Rail and Press Company. Republished with permission.On October 24, 1994, twenty-five year old Christina "Tina" Resch Boyer entered an Alford Plea in a Carroll County court to the felony murder and aggravated battery of her three year old daughter Amber Bennett. Because of her plea, there was no costly trial. She was subsequently sentenced to life in prison plus 20 years. As of now, she has served 15 1/2 years and is currently incarcerated at Pulaski State Prison in Hawkinsville, Georgia.
This may be the end of this tragic story for prisoner #0000810071, save for the announcement at some future date by prison authorities that Tina Boyer has died. But in a time when seemingly every few months someone is featured in the news as having been exonerated of a crime due to new testing of DNA, recanting of stories by eyewitnesses, or revisiting of the case by authorities, perhaps the time, too, has come for Christina Resch Boyer.
Boyer has strong support on her side with old and new friends — collectively called "Team Tina" — pushing for someone — anyone — with influence to listen to this story. There are websites about her, some filled with facts and information, some with innuendoes, and some with personal opinions that would most likely carry no weight with the Georgia judicial system. There was a book published about her and a national television dramatization aired.
But, underneath it all are a few points of fact about this case that would leave even a skeptical citizen wary of what has happened to this woman, and what would also seem to beg for attention from those who have the power to revisit this case with earnestness and an open mind to see if an injustice has occurred, and to then right it.
What has lingered in the minds of Boyer's supporters questioning seriously whether justice has been carried out include the following:
1. Is an Alford Plea by a person under the influence of antipsychotic medication, while being coached by her own attorney to make that confession, considered legal?
(In an Alford Plea, the defendant does not admit the act and asserts innocence but admits that sufficient evidence exists with which the prosecution could likely convince a judge or jury to find the defendant guilty.)
On the day she went into court and accepted this plea, Boyer had ingested 100 mg of doxepine (also known as sinequan) and an undisclosed amount of perphenazine (trilafon) that was given to her by a Carroll County prison employee while she was imprisoned in the county jail. Boyer had been on those two drugs daily during the two and half years she was imprisoned, from July 20, 1992 until October 24, 1994, at which time she pleaded. In addition, she received other kinds of medications with frequency.
Boyer was convinced by her public appointed attorney to plead out to the murder of her daughter. He told her if she didn't, a conviction would indeed occur because a jury would not be able to look at the graphic photographs of her daughter's bruised body and not find her guilty, and that she would then be killed by the state under the death penalty. (According to Boyer's testimony under oath as a state witness, pages 315-316, David Herrin trial.)
2. Was the representation that Boyer received considered to be legally adequate?
Her attorney was an appointed lawyer from Marietta, Jimmy D. Berry. Carroll County Superior Court Judge William Lee appointed Berry to handle this case after several local lawyers presented reasons they had conflicts due to ties to the prosecution or otherwise. Berry was also at the same time representing the high profile and time consuming case of Fred Tokars in Atlanta. Berry visited Boyer for a total of three times in the two and a half years she was in jail, this according to a bill that Berry submitted to the court for his time. Berry also submitted a "conflict letter" to the court showing that he had 88 cases across North Georgia at the same time he was handling Boyer's case.
3. Did Boyer's court appointed attorney steer his client into pleading to keep his perfect record of never having a client to receive a death penalty verdict?
Berry is currently listed on the website court.tv.com with the accolade that he "is well-known for his work on death penalty cases. He has tried more than 20 capital cases, and no client he has represented has ever received a death penalty verdict."
4. Were the expenses of a murder trial part of the push for an Alford Plea?
During this time a Carroll County newspaper, Times-Georgian, published a story by reporter Mark Griggs headlined "Cost of murder trials could change budget." Griggs reported "Carroll County came in under budget for 1991-92, but the cost of renovating an old school and trying two murder cases could force an amendment to the current year's budget." Later in the story, Griggs reported "a death penalty case in Douglas County earlier this year cost that county $244,459."
5. Was Boyer's right to a speedy trial violated?
She was imprisoned in the Carroll County jail from April 14, 1992 until October 24, 1994, at which point she pleaded.
The sixth amendment of the United States Constitution states: "In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury. . ."
In the state of New York a trial must occur within six months. In Georgia, the law requires a defendant must make a demand for a speedy trial. Once that demand is made, a defendant must be tried within two court terms, as long as juries were impaneled and qualified to try the defendant.
6. Was Boyer's right to a fair trial violated?
Publicity was very high in this sensational case, with ample coverage. In the Times-Georgian newspaper, there were numerous stories on details of the case, of the child's deceased body, the child's funeral, letters to the editor from outraged citizens, and even a story that reported on the "gentleness" of Boyer's boyfriend. There were also stories on the reelection campaigns of both the district attorney, Pete Skandalakis, and the county sheriff, Jack Bell. This was a high profile news topic.
In one story by Times-Georgian reporter Gayle Ray headlined "Sheriff seeks third term in office," candidate/Sheriff Jack Bell uses the murder of Amber Bennett seemingly to promote his campaign: "I became sheriff to make Carroll County a safe place to live for my children and my grandchildren to grow up here." "I'd like to think I've done a pretty good job." He then goes on to graphically describe Amber Bennett's dead body as "one of the saddest things you ever want to see." Was the sheriff concerned that it would appear he had not done a "pretty good job" if convictions weren't forthcoming in this high profile case?
7. Why is Boyer in prison for a crime that has no evidence supporting her guilt other than the Alford Plea?
Boyer wasn't present when her daughter's health rapidly deteriorated. Boyer has an alibi and a witness that she was elsewhere when her daughter received the fatal blow to the head. Boyer was with psychologist Jeannie Lagle with whom she was working on a book project for nearly six hours while her daughter was in the babysitting care of new boyfriend, David Herrin.
Herrin did not report that anyone else was with him during those six hours. He said Amber Bennett was eating, playing, and watching tv during the first few hours after Boyer had left the two of them alone at home.
After the child's death, Herrin admitted later to a Carroll County Sheriff's investigator that he had sexually abused Amber Bennett on two prior occasions. The record is void as to what happened with these admissions.
The day before her plea, Boyer passed the polygraph test paid for by the Carroll County court system and administered by a court certified examiner. Although polygraph tests are not admissible as evidence in a court, "passing" a polygraph indicates lying did not occur, that instead, the truth has been told — that Boyer did not kill her daughter.
According to the official court transcript of Boyer's plea, Berry told the judge: "In looking through the case, in my opinion, as well as I felt that Ms. Boyer was not the one who inflicted the injuries, that David Herrin was. The reason for the entry of the plea and we've discussed this case and being very candid with the court I've agonized over this case probably more than any that I've had in the last ten years."
8. Intentionally or not, was Boyer's character at the forefront of the push for the plea with no regard given to her guilt or innocence?
Berry stated (Times-Georgian article by Mark Griggs) that he felt it was in Boyer's best interests to plead because. . . "Boyer should have known the girl needed medical attention."
Incredulously, Berry, who pushed for his client to plea, states in that same newspaper article that he felt "she did not inflict the fatal injuries."
Also, possible strikes against Boyer's character in this small town was the common knowledge of her claim to "telekinetic powers"'; a sexual video the police had that a prior boyfriend had taken of her; a childhood spent in foster homes; the fact that she was an unmarried young mother; and that she was the subject of a book and television show about her telekinetic "powers."
9. Was David Herrin's not guilty verdict in the murder of Amber Bennett directly influenced by the fact that the judge told the jury that someone else had already pled to this murder?
David Herrin stood trial with five counts against him, including the murder of Amber Bennett.
Herrin was the only person known to have been present during the time the child would have received the head injury. If anyone else was present, he did not report it to police or make it known during his trial.
Herrin testified that the child was in bed taking a nap and that "around five-thirty I went in there. . . and tried to wake her up and I knew she looked kinda, you know, flushed, real pale. . . she was real limp. . ."
The testimony of medical examiner Steven Dunton stated Amber Bennett's cause of death "was the blunt force trauma she received to her head." And that with the fatal head injury the child received the "symptoms are not going to commence hours after the injury." Dunton also testified that "If a child has received this kind of force to the brain, that's going to result in a subdural hematoma and eventual swelling of the brain. At the very beginning, right after the injury, there may be a short period of time and I mean very short, some minutes, I doubt as long as 15 or 30, where the child might seem perfectly fine."
Again, Boyer had last been with her daughter six hours earlier. Despite her Alford Plea, the physical evidence, according to the medical examiner's testimony, points to Herrin as the one who was present when the fatal blow was delivered. And Boyer's alibi puts her several miles away (she was on Cedar Street in Carrollton; her daughter was with Herrin in the Shady Grove community). And Herrin testified himself that Boyer arrived after the child was "pale" and "limp."
The Carroll County jury in the trial of David Paul Herrin was informed that "Christina Boyer has entered a plea of guilty pursuant to Alford versus North Carolina to the offenses of felony murder and aggravated battery" by Judge Dewey Smith. Herrin was then found "not guilty of malice murder" "not guilty of felony murder" "not guilty of aggravated battery" and "not guilty of the lesser included offense of battery." Herrin was found guilty of only "cruelty to children." This charge did not include sexual molestation.
Herrin has served fifteen years of a twenty year sentence at the Wilcox State Prison in Abbeville, Georgia. He is up for parole on April 14, 2012.
These are some of the questions Boyer's supporters would like addressed. They believe Boyer is innocent of harming her child in any way. They believe that if Boyer had had a trial, she would have been found innocent. They believe the evidence shows that Boyer was frightened — and possibly over medicated — into making the Alford Plea to avoid what she perceived to be her own impending death by the state.
According to a study of Missouri abuse reports published in the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2005, children living in households with unrelated adults are nearly 50 times as likely to die of inflicted injuries as children living with two biological parents.
Psychologists Martin Daly and Margo I. Wilson reported in their 1996 paper entitled "Violence Against Stepchildren" that "stepchildren constituted a much higher proportion of U.S. child abuse cases than their numbers in the population at large would warrant."
In summary, Daly and Wilson's 1996 article studied the "step-relationship as a significant risk factor for lethal assaults on children."
Their study revealed that genetic fathers showed very low rates of homicide of their children (less than 10 victims per every million parent-child co-residents at age 0-2 years) and percentages of such drop to virtually insignificant levels after the age of 5. Opposite this graph is that of stepfathers, which highlights an extraordinarily different picture. Most drastically, in the 0-2 years of age category, victims of homicide reached heights of almost 500 per million parent-child co-residents.
And although Herrin and Boyer were not married, he had been fulfilling the role of a step father. He had been the primary caregiver the day Amber Bennett died and had been solely responsible for her care other times. The child had received other injuries that coincided with the times she was in his care.
Insofar as making a plea while under the influence of doxepine (sinequan) and perphenazine (trilafon), in a 2002 deposition by Thomas H. Sachy, the neuro-psychiatrist stated that perphenazine can cause cognitive impairment, blocking someone's ability to think clearly.
The Carroll Star News contacted another physician who agreed with this analysis, that someone under the influence of this medication with the added duress of losing a child while facing the death penalty may not be able to make decisions in her own best interest.
Also in that deposition, Dr. Sachy brought up the question of mental competency: "If it's a . . . issue of competency upon either side, even the prosecution, if there's an issue of mental health, then to pursue it and make sure mental health doesn't play a role in hindering their ability to assist their attorney." Sachy goes to say that if Boyer had been sensitive to the medications it would "significantly affect her cognition."
Why had Boyer been prescribed antipsychotic drugs in the first place? During her plea, Judge William Lee asked her if she had been given any medication. She answered yes, "tranquilizers", which indicates she was unaware of the type drug she was on and had been taking for longer than two years while in prison.
Also, Boyer apparently was misled by someone with authority to believe that after the plea, her sentence would not be a long one, that it would be "4 plus years," this according to a letter she wrote to friends the day before she pled. On October 21, 1994, she wrote: "It isn't easy knowing I'm signing away my life for the next 4 plus years. I'm going to college while I'm there [prison] and make the most of my time. . . . At least when I come out I'll have an education behind me and I'll be able to support myself. Please if you can, come to court with me. . . . Please stand by me and don't forget me."
But, none of Boyers' friends who showed up to court that morning were allowed to attend the hearing. Presiding Judge William Lee stopped William Roll and Dr. Mike Arons in the courthouse just before the hearing and, according to both men, informed them they could not enter the room. Also, Boyer's alibi witness, Jeannie Lagle, said she was kept out by a deputy. (Roll is a psychologist / parapsychologist, University of West Georgia, Carrollton. Arons was UWG chair, psychology department.)
These people have informed Boyers' current attorney Richard Allen, that they would have strongly encouraged Boyer that day to not accept the plea. Instead, she entered the courtroom alone without the support of her friends and with a court appointed and, self admitting, very busy attorney.
Perhaps Tina Boyer's story has been muddied up with the paranormal claims and community perception of a young unwed mother; the career goals of her attorney and the local sheriff that seem to conflict with what would have been best for her; possible medical/mental issues; and a media blitz on this sensational murder case that included a national television show ("Unsolved Mysteries") and print (Unleashed — Of Poltergeists and Murder: The Curious Story of Tina Resch, by William Roll and Valerie Storey.)
A 'perfect storm' of oppressive events seems to have occurred with Christina Resch Boyer at the epicenter. But when it's all sifted through, this is the story is of a young woman who pleaded and accepted punishment for a murder that happened when she wasn't present.
Christina Boyer is up for parole at this time. According to the state's official website (www.pap.state.ga.us) the State Board of Pardons and Paroles is a part of the executive branch of Georgia's government, authorized to "grant paroles, pardons, reprieves, remissions, commutations, and to restore civil and political rights."
David Paul Herrin is scheduled to be released from the Wilcox State Prison on April 14, 2012.
Richard Allen told The Carroll Star News, "The Georgia parole board will not look beyond the word 'murder.' A high official told me that Tina had confessed and had explained her part in the death. That is erroneous. Exactly the opposite happened. In an Alford Plea, the defendant asserts their innocence. And, to this day, Tina maintains her innocence. It's obvious the parole board has only taken a cursory look at the facts in this case. I really must wonder if they understand what an Alford Plea means."
And without their attention, the murder of three year old Amber Bennett, with serious questions begging, remains quiet.
Editorial — The Carroll Star News
by Sue Horn, Editor
Sunday, January 20, 2008
An injustice anywhere . . .On Monday, January 21st, Americans will recognize the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. There will be parades, business and school closings, and church events will be held the day before for this nonviolent man who lived during a violent time. One of King's often repeated statements is: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." On the front page of this week's Star News is the tragic story of Christina Resch Boyer, a woman to whom it appears that a great injustice has been done.
When Boyer's attorney Richard Allen (West Georgia lawyer) first contacted me about this case, I tried to be polite. Allen walked into the newspaper office unannounced, stood with feet planted and holding - I'm not exaggerating - a stack of papers more than a foot high. And he talked rapid lawyerese. So, I counted picas and agates in my head until I felt I had waited a polite amount of time before saying no, thanks, I don't think there's anything I can do. But, before I could reach that time, I realized I was wrong. This woman needed help: help from this attorney (who is taking the case, not quite, but almost at no pay) help from me, help from where ever she can get it.
Many of us are familiar with the Innocence Project that helps exonerate wrongfully convicted persons. The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) said in 1997: "Countless innocent Americans are behind bars or on death row for crimes that they didn't commit. Law schools and journalism schools are often in the best position to correct these grave injustices, as we've seen in Illinois where more people have been freed from death row than have been executed," noted Gerald Lefcourt, president of the (NACDL), in announcing a major campaign to expand the existing Innocence Project to law schools and journalism schools nationwide."
But that project only works with cases that involve DNA. DNA is not a factor in the Boyer case. But the above statement from the NACDL is incredibly frightening in that "countless innocent Americans are behind bars or on death row for crimes that they didn't commit". Countless? I feel sick. Could that happen to me or any of my family members? What about you and your family? What if it did?
I realize the court system in America is not perfect, because people are not. We are human, and mistakes will happen. And believe, me I'm no tree hugging, Bambi loving, soft hearted woman who's searching for a cause to make my life have meaning. I've got enough to do. But, this story of this woman who was at the epicenter of a perfect storm of oppressive events, begs for attention.
Boyer is serving a life sentence plus twenty years for this death of her three year old daughter. Did she do it? Her lawyer told the judge no at her hearing. But, she sits in prison today. Boyer had no family and few friends, no money. But, it's possible she can have justice. Read the story. Let me know.How about I close with a quote from Seneca (Roman philosopher, mid first century AD): "A kingdom founded on injustice never lasts."
Update: Christina "Tina" Boyer's attorney Richard D. Allen, Jr. died of a heart attack on March 2, 2009, age 63. A former Georgia prosecutor himself, he was working below fee to help get Christina Boyer released because he believed in her innocence. Boyer is now without formal legal representation and is relying solely on citizen activism. Obituary