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Shirley Ree Smith, whose prison sentence was commuted by California Gov. Jerry Brown, began creating greeting cards for her grandchildren while she was incarcerated. While she was out of custody after a series of legal appeals, until today, she still faced the possibility of returning to prison. (Courtney Perry for NPR)

Grandmother In High-Profile Shaken Baby Case Has Sentence Commuted

by Alicia Cypress
Apr 6, 2012

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Alicia Cypress

A California grandmother convicted of shaking her 7-week-old grandson to death will not return to jail, because Gov. Jerry Brown has commuted her sentence.

On March 29, NPR's Joseph Shapiro and ProPublica's A.C. Thompson told the story of Shirley Ree Smith, who had already spent years in prison until the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals set aside her sentence after finding her case was likely "a miscarriage of justice." A series of appeals later, she was facing a return to prison.

But an investigation of her case by NPR, ProPublica and PBS Frontline found that a senior medical examiner in the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office sharply questioned the forensic evidence used to convict her.

This afternoon, Brown commuted her sentence.

"In light of the unusual circumstances in this particular case, the length of time Ms.Smith has served in prison, and the evidence before me that Ms.Smith has been law-abiding since her release from prison, I conclude that reducing her sentence to time served is appropriate," Brown said in his order.

NPR's story was part of Post Mortem, NPR's series with ProPublica and PBS Frontline, examining flawed autopsies and death investigations.

Update at 8:08 p.m. ET. 'Deeply Grateful':

"I'm so glad I don't have to go back to that place. It's so horrible."

That's what Smith told ProPublica after she heard the news. ProPublica adds:

Dennis Riordan, one of Smith's lawyers, thanked the governor. 'We're deeply grateful for the governor's actions in commuting Shirley's sentence, thereby saving an innocent woman from going back to serve a life sentence she should never have been given in the first place,' the attorney said.

From the start, Smith has maintained her innocence, insisting that she didn't harm her 7-week-old grandson, Etzel Glass, who stopped breathing in a Van Nuys apartment and was pronounced dead by a doctor at a nearby hospital.

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