The Austin Chronicle

Mi Vida Dentro Documentary Spotlights Rosa Jimenez Case

Activists organize screening as Jimenez awaits D.A.'s Office decision on a retrial

By Brant Bingamon, February 21, 2020, News

When will Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore make a decision on the fate of Rosa Jimenez? This was the question on everyone's lips at the screening and panel discussion of Mi Vida Dentro, Lucía Gajá's documentary telling Jimenez's story, held on Feb. 12 at the Mueller Alamo Drafthouse. Jimenez has served 17 years of a 99-year sentence for the murder of a toddler, but her guilt has long been doubted. Late last year, a federal judge ordered the D.A.'s Office to either retry or release Jimenez by Feb. 25.

Attendance at the screening – organized by Kathy Mitchell of Just Liberty, with help from the Justice Collaborative, Austin Jus­tice Coalition, Workers Defense Action Fund, and Austin Community Law Center – showed that Jimen­ez's case is striking a nerve. Attorney Sara Brown, who has represented Jimenez since 2012, urged the audience to contact the D.A. "The public outcry is the reason why these reviews are going on in the District Attorney's Office," she said. "All of that support has made a difference."

Jimenez was a 20-year-old undocumented immigrant when she was accused in 2003 of suffocating 21-month-old Bryan Gutierrez, a child in her care, by cramming a wad of paper towels down his throat. Prosecutors had no witnesses and no clear motive; instead, they presented experts who swore the child could not have swallowed the paper towels on his own. Jimenez's court-appointed attorney couldn't raise the money necessary to effectively counter the state's argument. Jimenez was convicted on the expert testimony and little else. She has protested her innocence ever since.

In 2010 the Innocence Project took the case and brought experts of their own, who testified that children do get large objects stuck in their throats and that the toddler's death was likely a tragic accident. A judge agreed and ordered a new trial. That order was reversed in 2012, but renewed in 2019 when U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel laid down the Feb. 25 deadline. In the years that her case has traveled through the appeals process, Jimenez has developed stage 4 kidney disease. Her Inno­cence Project attorney, Vanessa Potkin, says she will need dialysis and, eventually, a kidney transplant to stay alive but will never be able to get on a transplant list while in prison. Nonetheless, in January, representatives of the Texas Attorney General's office, in consultation with Moore, asked the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to keep Jimenez incarcerated indefinitely. The 5CA agreed.

Potkin said Moore's decision on a retrial will likely determine whether the A.G. tries to keep Jimenez in prison. "What we heard from the Attorney General's office is they will take their cues from the district attorney," she said. For her part, Moore recently expressed confidence in Jimenez's trial jury, telling the online publication The Appeal that Jimenez's guilt was "resolved by the twelve men and women who actually saw all the evidence and heard opinion testimony. Everything after that is opinion by people who were not in that courtroom."

Mitchell isn't impressed by that logic. "Yes, the original jury heard 'opinion testimony,'" she said. "They just didn't hear the testimony that led four judges to agree she is probably innocent. So those twelve jurors didn't consider all the evidence."

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