Court clears way for new hearing in baby’s 2001 death

BATTLE CREEK, Mich. (AP) — The Michigan appeals court reopened the case of a Battle Creek woman who has lined up experts to offer new opinions on the death of her daughter in 2001.

Tonia Miller, 37, has been in prison since 2003 when she was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to at least 20 years in prison.

Defense experts believe Miller’s 11-week-old daughter died from pneumonia, not head trauma referred to as shaken baby syndrome.

The appeals court ordered an evidentiary hearing in Calhoun County and assigned the case to a different judge. It’s possible Miller could get a new trial.

Miller said she shook Alicia Duff when the baby gasped for air and stopped breathing while being fed from a bottle. She denied shaking her violently or with an intent to hurt the child.

“The parties agree that the underlying physical evidence — the medical and autopsy records — remains the same. The scientific understanding of those records has allegedly changed. … The issue is whether scientific understanding and knowledge (after) her trial call into question the reliability of the jury’s verdict,” the appeals court said in a 3-0 opinion Thursday.

Miller is being represented by the Innocence Clinic at University of Michigan law school. The prosecutor stands by her conviction.

“If it was something as simple as pneumonia, I would suspect they would have found it long ago,” David Gilbert said in 2018.