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Dr. Stephens questions the verdict

May 5th, 2000 · No Comments

by Peter J. Stephens - M.D., Forensic Pathologist, Iowa City, Iowa
originally published: May 5, 2000
in: Cedar Rapids Gazette opinion page

“We ran a news story from Associated Press on April 29, 2000 in which Heidi Anfinson said she did not consider herself guilty. Dr. Stephens responded to that story. He lives in Iowa City and practices at Weland Laboratories in Cedar Rapids.” – Kurt Rogahn, Assistant Opinion Page Editor of the Cedar Rapids Gazette

What is gained by imprisoning that woman?

Heidi Anfinson’s interview regarding her second-degree murder conviction (Gazette, April 29) omits some important points. This case (involving a Des Moines woman found guilty in the drowning death of her 2-week-old son) represents a travesty of justice for whom all Iowans should be deeply embarrassed and ashamed.

First, she was convicted on the basis of junk science: The two prosecution experts disagreed with each other’s reasons for their opinions, as well they should. Neither of the theories offered by the prosecution witnesses is commonly accepted in the forensic science community or adequately supported in scientific literature. Had this trial been held in federal court, it is highly improbable that either theory would have withstood a so-called Daubert hearing.

Second, the sentence far exceeds that in most other English-speaking jurisdictions, many of which mandate manslaughter verdicts in cases involving women recovering from childbirth. Third, regardless of whether or not they care about the quality, fairness and humanity of the Iowa criminal justice system, Iowans should be appalled at the tax dollars squandered in this matter. It will cost well over $1 million to incarcerate Heidi Anfinson for 42 1/2 years. She is extremely unlikely to repeat her offense and represents no threat whatsoever to citizens of this state. The money involved would pay about one-third of the cost of a modern medical examiner facility or about one-tenth the cost of a new state crime laboratory, both of which are sorely needed.

Until now, I had not thought of Iowans as vindictive or vengeful people. This case clearly indicates that the citizens of Iowa are more interested in vengeance than in providing adequate forensic sciences facilities. It also indicates they are prepared to spend approximately $1.2 million to buy this vengeance.

editor’s note: Dr. Stephens testified on Heidi’s behalf at both of her trials.

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