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Family Reaction to Conviction

March 5th, 2000 · No Comments

by Bob Krause - brother-in-law
originally published: March 5, 2000
in: Des Moines Register - Opinion Page

Another Side to Heidi Anfinson’s Story
A family member questions her conviction in baby Jacob’s death

I am Jacob Anfinson’s uncle. I have some hard questions for
you, citizens of Iowa. Please be honest with yourselves. If
you are reading this, you no doubt are familiar with Jacob’s
story.

Jacob was 2 weeks old when he died in 1998. His parents, Heidi
and Mike of Des Moines, initially reported Jacob missing, but
later that night Heidi led police to Jacob in shallow water
near Saylorville Lake. Heidi has always maintained Jacob
drowned in his bath at home.

What followed was a painfully one-sided media barrage of the
case. In our legal system, defendants cannot say anything to
the media or they will be shredded in court where anything can
be used against them. Prosecutors have all the evidence
collected by police, medical examiners, etc. They can
release information to build a great emotional groundswell.

In the weeks and months after it was alleged that Heidi
drowned Jacob at the lake, did you believe it?

Why? Because the state of Iowa said so? Was Heidi hideous in
your mind? Does that fit our society’s cornerstone of justice:
“Innocent until proven guilty?”

Now, this may be a leap for some of you affected by the
one-sided, negative portrayal of the case, but imagine Heidi
was your sister or in-law or daughter. You grew up with her.
Since toddler age you could always tell if she was lying.

I contend your answer to the following question is absolutely
tied to knowing the person involved:

Which is a more outlandish scenario: (A) A new mom gave the
baby a bath. She left the baby unattended, returned to find
the baby drowned, panicked and tried to hide the body to make
it look like a kidnapping? Or (B) A new mom waited on a
perfect September Sunday for her husband to leave, then
hustled the newborn up to Saylorville, cut him with a knife
30 feet from a busy recreational-area road and drowned him in
the lake? Pretty much on a whim.

Life does not have easy, pat answers.

Option B is easy for prosecutors, but does it sound plausible?
The state of Iowa says so. The Davenport jury in Heidi’s trial
bought it. (Heidi’s first trial in Polk County ended in a hung
jury. A second trial in Scott County ended last month in a
jury convicting her of second-degree murder.)

Was it right though? Is your sister, in-law or daughter more
likely to be an Option A or an Option B person?

I have never seen in the news or the trials this fact: Not a
single person has come forward to say anything about Heidi’s
personality that would make her turn on a child. There is
nothing there. Heidi was a 10-year waitress and manager at
upscale Jimmy’s restaurant in West Des Moines, working until
her eighth month of pregnancy. I’m sure she knew hundreds of
people from that job. No one came forward with anything
negative.

Did you see on TV the tight ensemble of Heidi’s family and
friends sitting behind the defense table? How many supporters
did you see behind Polk County attorney John Sarcone and your
state of Iowa’s prosecution table? Zero, unless you count the
press. Absolutely no one who knows Heidi personally thinks she
is guilty.

Standing By Her

Jacob Michael’s arrival was the proudest moment in Mike and
Heidi’s life. Mike was devastated, doubting and confused in
the first days after Jacob’s death. But ever since Heidi was
released on bond and Mike could talk with her, he has been her
staunchest supporter.

People are amazed when I tell them Heidi and Mike have stayed
together in their home throughout this whole 17-month ordeal.
Heidi and Mike have two living parents and nine siblings. If
any of them suspected she intentionally harmed Jacob, wouldn’t
they be furious? Heidi’s mom was forced by the prosecution to
testify against her. Mike’s sister was forced by the
prosecution to testify against her. Neither one even hinted at
any foul play.

Just minutes before the verdict was read that could have (and
did) put her in prison for life, I saw Heidi refuse to sneak a
paper cup of coffee into the courtroom (as others had) to sit
with her family. Why? Because a paper sign was posted saying,
“No food or drinks”. Nobody asked to her to follow that tiny
rule. No one was even there to enforce it, but she drank in
the hallway. And we citizens of Iowa think this woman
butchered her baby and deserves 50 years? Good God!

Heidi’s two trials were filled with scientific evidence: four
pathologists (coroners), wildlife experts and police
investigators. I saw all but one day and took extensive notes.
I think the average Iowan would be shocked to know how inexact
a science pathology is. I was. My gut now tells me we have
wrongly sent people to prison whenever the forensic evidence
is a large part of the case.

I will not debate all the evidence here. Obviously that is a
week’s worth of testimony. But I can cite an example. Four
pathologists could not agree on the key question of the trial:
Did Jacob drown at home or the lake? Of course, the two defense
pathologists said at home and two prosecution said at the lake.
But none of the pathologists could rule out that they were
wrong about where the drowning occurred.

Reasonable Doubt?

So what is reasonable doubt? Four pathologists can’t agree on
where Jacob drowned nor can they agree on what factors make
them think so. If you were on trial, wouldn’t you want that
lack of consensus to be reasonable doubt about the basic facts
of your case?

One technical fact is worth examining for credibility of the
State’s case. There were others in the trial but this is
simplest to explain. Polk County Medical Examiner Francis
Garrity performed Jacob’s autopsy. The other three pathologists
who testified relied on his results to arrive at their
testimony.

Dr. Garrity found two kinds of alcohol in Jacob’s body. He
concluded that the alcohol was present BEFORE Jacob’s death
AND contributed to it. Preposterous, isn’t it, to think Heidi
was giving her newborn rubbing and grain alcohol? The three
other pathologists, including the state’s celebrity witness
flown in from New York (twice, at taxpayer expense), all
disagreed with Garrity. They stated alcohol is commonly
produced in bodies AFTER death.

Why would Garrity, who surely knows all about alcohol formation
in bodies, choose the far-fetched conclusion that alcohol
contributed to Jacob’s death? Did Garrity, who is by law
supposed to be a neutral party, fairly interpret the autopsy?
Or was the government’s case being padded?

What Wasn’t Reported

It was recently reported that Heidi was offered a plea bargain,
which she turned down. Her sentence would have been 17 years,
rather than the 50 years she was just given. It was not
reported that Heidi turned down the plea bargain because the
state of Iowa wanted her to lie and say Jacob was alive when
placed in Saylorville.

People presume torture is not allowed in this country. But can
you imagine having to choose between doing 17 years for a crime
you did not commit or facing a jury that may very well put you
away for life – again for a crime you did not commit? Heidi
tried to hold out for truth and now is paying with her life.
The earliest she can be released is age 83 under current law.

My last image of Heidi as a free woman is not in the courtroom
waiting for the verdict. For that, she wore her “public face”
– quiet, drawn, unemotional. Quite like the inflammatory word
“flat” that prosecutor Sarcone prodded his witnesses to say in
court. Witness after witness used that unusual term, contending
that Heidi’s demeanor was “flat” with the police. As in
uncaring, disinterested, heartless toward Jacob.

Do they know she has public and private faces? Did they even
bother to find out? I doubt they care about such matters of
truth.

My last memory of Heidi won’t leave my ears. An hour before
the verdict, seven of her family and friends gathered in an
1850s church. Just two blocks from the courthouse, it was
built from rustic limestone but hid a delicate Catholic
interior. There were six or eight people scattered about in
quiet prayer. We instinctively split apart to various crannies.

The church was beyond quiet. Every piece of grit on our soles
reverberated. Ten minutes later, soft sobs started far behind
me, growing louder into wet, untamed sobs before God. Not
before the TV cameras, not before the police, not before
Sarcone representing the state of Iowa. What an excruciatingly
intimate glimpse into someone’s soul.

Would You?

Many eyebrows were raised because Heidi did not call 911 when
Jacob drowned at home. Many proudly boast, “I would certainly
call 911.” Are you so sure of your reaction to tremendous
stress?

I was at a formal church wedding where the bride loudly
giggled through the whole service. Why do some people freeze
when a car is about to hit a child but others leap to snatch
the child? Reactions can’t always be explained.

Are you sure “that woman” murdered her baby? Beyond a
reasonable doubt?

Heartbreaking letters and notes have been written by this
grieving family, including an 8-year old friend who is trying
to fathom why “Aunt Heidi” is in jail. Jacob was loved so
deeply, it’s hard to express. Heidi’s sister writes, “I cannot
have children. Jacob was a part of me. I kneeled on his
grave on Christmas Day and sang carols to him. His grave has
seen more pain and tears than I thought possible. Heidi went
nearly every day.”

State’s Arrogance

If no one in the family who loved Jacob called for charges to
be filed against Heidi, if the family has long since forgiven
Heidi of any lapse in judgment when bathing Jacob on
Sept. 20, 1998, how can the state of Iowa be so arrogant as to
destroy the lives of Heidi and Mike? Has Sarcone ever been to
Jacob’s grave to mourn him?

Think back in your life. Did you ever do something dumb that
could have ended in true disaster? Mold it a little and then
put yourself on trial. Here’s the criteria: Nobody can be
there to corroborate your story. Put yourself on very little
sleep (breastfeeding, perhaps) so you’re not thinking very
clearly. Make a few dumb decisions. Then, for whatever
reason (your choice), go ahead and cover up the problem
instead of admitting it.

After police read you your rights, feebly ask for a lawyer,
but allow police to interrogate you ALONE on tape, eight hours
after your disaster. You have not slept in 18 hours nor talked
with your family. There. The “facts” are set in stone.
It’s on tape.

Now get someone to believe what really happened.

And pray to God for mercy — because you won’t get it from the
citizens of Iowa.

Tags: Supporters · What Happened?