A federal judge in Chicago has ordered the release of a day care provider convicted of murdering an infant under her care after new evidence was introduced questioning her conviction.
Jennifer Del Prete has spent nearly a decade in prison for a shaken-baby murder she claims she did not commit. She was not scheduled to be released on parole until 2025.
According to U.S. District Court Judge Matthew F. Kennelly, who acknowledged the rarity of the ruling, Del Prete will be released after posting bond while the courts address her claims of innocence.
"It's like a breath of fresh air," said Del Prete's daughter Tia Del Prete. "I wasn't fully breathing, now I can again."
Northwestern undergraduates, working with Medill Justice Project director Alec Klein, discovered a 2003 letter written by a police detective pointing to her innocence that prosecutors had not provided to Del Prete or her attorneys, according to a release.
"We determined it was sent from a detective to the prosecution's expert witness and then that piece of evidence became crucial in the federal judge's ruling," said Alex Hample of the Medill Justice Project.
In the letter, the detective reportedly wrote that the pathologist performing the infant’s autopsy had significant doubts that Del Prete had violently shaken the infant in what is known as shaken-baby syndrome.
Earlier this year, the judge released a 97-page ruling stating that no reasonable jury that heard all the evidence in Del Prete’s case would have convicted her.
But Del Prete's daughter still expressed sadness for the grieving family who lost their baby years ago.
"I don't even know what it's like for them," Tia Del Prete said. "I only knew that putting my mom in prison wasn't going to help."