Calif. gov. commutes Shirley Ree Smith's sentence in shaken baby case

Gov. Jerry Brown
AP Photo/Steve Yeater

(CBS/AP) SACRAMENTO, Calif. - California Gov. Jerry Brown has commuted the sentence of a woman convicted of shaking her baby grandson to death.

Shirley Ree Smith, 52, was convicted in December 1997 of shaking her 7-week old grandson and was sentenced to 15 years-to life in prison.

The Van Nuys woman has maintained her innocence. She served 10 years behind bars and has been free since 2006 as she awaited numerous federal appeals on her case.

Brown says in a commutation letter released Friday that "it is clear that significant doubts surround Ms. Smith's conviction."

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had three times set aside Smith's conviction, saying the case likely was "a miscarriage of justice," and that there was no support for the prosecution's theory. But last year the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the conviction and Smith was due to be re-incarcerated, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The Democratic governor noted that Smith was 37 when she was convicted and had no criminal record.

Brown's decision was his first grant of clemency since he became governor again in 2011. He granted only one other during his first two terms as governor, from 1975-1980.

Shaken baby syndrome has come under increased scrutiny in recent years. A 2011 investigation by NPR, PBS Frontline and ProPublica examined cases where someone was convicted of killing children by shaking but later had their convictions overturned. The investigation found "questionable autopsies and testimony, as well as disputes over medical evidence" in the cases.

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