An Unshaken Spirit…

When Audrey Edmunds walks into a room, people notice. She’s tall, beautiful, extremely outgoing and enormously sincere. When I met her at a benefit for the Innocence Project of Minnesota in 2012, I was aware of her tragic past. I was curious about how anyone could survive what she had and still maintain a high spirited disposition. Judging from the kind of person she is now, with her ‘bubbly’ nature, I knew that we were destined to become good friends. My husband even describes her best as “one of the most positive people” he has ever met. But life for Audrey was not always so uplifting…

In 1996 the characterization of Audrey Edmunds inside a Dane County Courtroom in Madison, WI was vastly different. Each day in court she sat helplessly as her civil rights were violated through an ongoing verbal assassination of her character. She was portrayed as a “monster” capable of shaking an infant hard enough to cause head trauma and death. The significance of the absence of obvious trauma on the child’s body was lost on the prosecutor and irrelevant during the entire court proceedings. Audrey herself was extremely fragile, after giving birth to her 3rd child only four months earlier. She struggled to keep her composure, sanity and dignity while being wrongfully accused, charged and then bullied in the courtroom for the death of this tiny baby. Audrey adored babies. She had nurtured this child and she desperately mourned her passing. Through it all, Audrey’s self-preservation and physical state was in tatters.

Most of all, the direction of the court proceedings caused Audrey dire concern for her three children. Who would raise them if she was convicted? Would she have the chance to get to know her youngest child? The truth is that Audrey was loved by those close to her and was known to celebrate children. Having done daycare in her home for some time she was well liked by the parents who left their precious babies in her care. There were never issues or complaints of questionable behavior by them to suggest that Audrey disliked or became frustrated with the children. The fact that one of the infants in Audrey’s care on the day in question was especially fussy and later died that same day, placed Audrey as the only suspect in this child’s death.

The science surrounding what the authorities would later charge Audrey with-a condition known as “Shaken Baby Syndrome” (SBS) was faulty but was believed to be sound at the time. It was the subsequent evidence that caused her demise. Audrey was charged with 1st degree reckless homicide. She was terrified of going to prison.

Her sentencing hearing was scheduled for two days after her youngest daughter’s first birthday in 1997. Her worst nightmare was realized. Audrey was sentenced to eighteen years in prison. She would not be there to see her daughters grow up. During her time in prison she decided that for the sake of her babies she’d have to maintain what dignity she had left and never allow herself to sink into total despair. She held on to the belief that she would one day be free. She did her best to stick with a familiar routine, to stay as healthy as she could and to keep thoughts of her precious girls close to her heart.

Audrey served eleven years of that sentence before being exonerated in 2008 with the help of the Wisconsin Innocence Project. New findings in the science of SBS had come to light and provided the new evidence to confirm her claims of innocence. Her marriage had since dissolved but she would finally reconnect with her three daughters, now young adults. Together they could begin a new relationship. Audrey’s spirit guided her through the challenges she faced on the outside.

For the past few years Audrey and I have become good friends. Her unshaken spirit, strength, and ability to wear a smile despite the pain she has endured are attributes that inspire me daily to reject the negative aspects in my life, and to embrace as much positive energy as I can.

Audrey is an inspiration to anyone who meets her or has the opportunity to read her touching story publicized in a book entitled, It Happened to Audrey by Jill Wellington. It serves as a testament and inspiration that’s part of Audrey’s mission to create awareness about the fallacies surrounding SBS. Please consider ordering a copy.

Audrey’s story is also featured in a documentary film called, The Syndrome, by producers Meryl and Susan Goldsmith.

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Joan Treppa and exoneree Audrey Edmunds

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