Compensating for lost time: Michigan woman served four years for child abuse she didn’t commit
"You can just imagine the hell."
The hell that Julie Baumer describes is her life after being tried and convicted for a crime that she did not commit. She spent more than four years in prison after the courts found her guilty of child abuse involving her five-week-old nephew. When she was ultimately found to be innocent of the charges, she was set free.
"I was in my formative years – mid-to-late 20s – and I was trying to build my life, networking, and [laying] the foundation to get to a lifestyle that one would desire, and all of that was taken from me," Baumer said. "It was just given back to me in a bag ... with missing pieces. So I was trying to put together this jigsaw puzzle."
Baumer joined Stateside to tell her story.
In 2003, Baumer's sister gave birth to a baby boy named Phillip, but since she was unable to care for him, Baumer pursued an in-family adoption. Since Phillip was born two weeks premature, there were health complications for the infant. Eventually he was able to leave the hospital, but at five weeks old, he stopped eating.
Baumer was advised to bring him into the emergency room where they treated him and later transferred him to a local children's hospital. There, while under close supervision, the nurses on staff discovered that Phillip's head had swollen to the point where they needed to perform an MRI.
The medical staff discovered bleeding in Phillip's brain and came to the conclusion that he had suffered the effects of Shaken Baby Syndrome.
Because Baumer was the last person caring for Phillip, she was the primary suspect of this child abuse case.
Baumer was tried and convicted of child abuse and given the maximum sentence of 10-to-15 years in prison.
"When I heard the guilty verdict ... it was a surreal moment," Baumer said. "[I thought,] 'Is this really happening? How did we get to this point?' It was devastating. I knew it was going to be a collapse in my life, with a ripple effect going everywhere in every dynamic part of my life, personally and professional. Immediately, I just knew that I had to appeal it and go through the process of trying to prove my innocence."
Baumer, a Catholic, put a lot of her faith in God and befriended a nun who recommended her case to the Michigan Innocence Clinic. By recruiting a number of medical experts, the clinic was able to prove that Phillip did not suffer the injury from being shaken, but rather, he had suffered a stroke called venous sinus thrombosis (VST).
Baumer was convicted in September of 2005 and after earning a new trial, she was finally released in December of 2009. Now, the challenge was putting her life back together.
Recently, Public Act 843 went into affect, which gives people who are wrongly convicted compensation for time spent in prison. However, Baumer's case occurred before that legislation took effect. So, after being released from prison, what did she receive to help put her life back together?
"Absolutely nothing. Absolutely nothing. I was given the, 'You're not guilty, you're free to go,'" Baumer said.
Baumer is now eligible under the new law and said she plans to seek compensation.
Listen to the full interview above to hear what happened to her nephew, about how Baumer is struggling with forgiveness, and about what her life is like now that she is free again.
EDITOR'S NOTE: A sentence was added to clarify that Julie Baumer is eligible to receive compensation under the new law. She was not upon release, however, because the law was not in place.