Tasha Shelby was sleeping in the bedroom of her Biloxi, Miss., home when a bumping noise woke her up, she would later recall. She told authorities that she went to her stepson’s bedroom and found 2-year-old Bryan Thompson lying on the floor having an apparent seizure; he died soon after.
At the time in June 1997, medical examiner Dr. Leroy Riddick did not believe Shelby’s story and claimed Thompson died of Shaken Baby Syndrome. Harrison County prosecutors charged Shelby, age 25, with capital murder and a judge sentenced her to life in prison without the possibility of parole in 2000.
But in 2017, Riddick testified that he “made a mistake,” KKTV reported.
“I made a mistake on my conclusions and given the information I have now, … the child died from hypoxic encephalopathy with herniation due to a seizure disorder,” the doctor told KKTV in 2017.
He updated the child’s death report, ruling it as an accident in 2018. The former medical examiner died in 2021.
But five years after Riddick officially revised the cause of death on his death certificate, Shelby remains in prison. Her family has been fighting for her release and asking elected officials to step in and reverse Shelby’s conviction for years. People convicted of a felony can appeal their convictions under the Post-Conviction Collateral Relief Act.
Martin Proposes Reform
Standing with a group that included Shelby’s aunt Penny Warner outside the Walter Sillers State Office Building in Jackson on Oct. 24, Democratic candidate for attorney general Greta Kemp Martin proposed creating a “conviction integrity unit” to help uncover wrongful convictions.
“At its core, a conviction integrity unit is dedicated to investigating claims of wrongful convictions,” she said. “It has the capacity to reexamine cases in which new evidence has come to light, instances where prosecutorial misconduct is suspected or situations where doubts linger regarding the original conviction.”
Warner said Shelby’s 26 years in prison have cost Mississippi taxpayers over $500,000, and she called on Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch to investigate the case.
“A Christian woman should do everything in her power to get an innocent woman out of jail. … And it makes us want to scream at the top of our lungs,” Warner said.
The incumbent attorney general, Republican Fitch, has not made any known efforts to review the case. The Mississippi Free Press asked her office for an interview to discuss Shelby’s case on Oct. 26 and Oct. 30 but has not received a response.
But she has pushed to review and overturn convictions in other cases. In August 2022, a judge convicted Jackson police officer Anthony Fox of negligent manslaughter for the death of 62-year-old George Robinson after eyewitnesses said they saw JPD officers pull him out of his car and beat him. Fitch urged a state appeals court to drop Fox’s conviction on July 10, prompting outrage from the man’s family. The attorney general argued that Robinson had prior health conditions and had died of natural causes, telling the court Fox’s “conviction should not stand.”
Man’s Family Wants Death Reexamined
In addition to Tasha Shelby’s case, Greta Kemp Martin said the attorney general’s office should also reexamine the death of Christian Andreacchio, which officials ruled as a suicide in 2014.
His girlfriend Whitley Goodman and friend Dylan Swearingen told authorities they found the 21-year-old slumped in the bathroom of his Meridian, Miss., apartment with a gunshot wound to the head on Feb. 25, 2014, CBS News reported. Swearingen said Andreacchio was acting oddly and threatening to shoot himself.
Meridian police arrested Goodman and Swearingen for his murder in January 2017 and went to a grand jury in November 2017. A Lauderdale County grand jury did not indict the pair in December 2017, saying there was insufficient evidence to charge them for Andreacchio’s murder.
Rae Andreacchio, Christian Andreacchio’s mother, joined Martin at the Oct. 24 press conference along with Penny Warner, Mississippi House candidate Fabian Nelson, Hinds County District Attorney Jody Owens, Democratic secretary of state candidate Ty Pinkins and Mississippi House Rep. DeKeither Stamps.
Mississippians will vote for attorney general and other statewide, legislative and regional offices on Nov. 7, 2023. Any eligible registered voter who registered in person by Oct. 9 or had their voter registration application postmarked by Oct. 10 can cast a ballot in the general election.
Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Contact your local circuit clerk or election commissioners for polling place information. Voters must bring an accepted form of voter ID to the polls. For more information, visit sos.ms.gov/yall-vote.