A great-grandmother was released from prison after 11 years behind bars when new evidence showed the death of the woman's 9-month-old grandson may have been accidental.
Maria Mendez, 64, had been convicted of murdering her grandson, Emmanuel, the Los Angeles Times reported. The baby died in December 2006.
A prosecutor told jurors during Mendez’s trial in 2009 that Mendez was depressed following her husband’s death and was annoyed when her teenage daughter became pregnant with Emmanuel. The prosecutor said Mendez “snapped” and killed the child. She was the only adult around the child at the time of his death, officials said.
During the trial, a doctor and coroner testified the baby died from “massive brain swelling” consistent with shaken baby syndrome. Jurors were not shown results of a CT scan taken after the child was hospitalized, the Los Angeles Times reported. Jurors found Mendez guilty of “assault causing a child’s death and causing a child to suffer unjustifiable pain or injury resulting in death” but were deadlocked on the murder charge. She was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison, but she appealed.
Mendez’s lawyers presented CT scans and autopsy photos indicating the injuries could have been caused by an earlier fall.
Loyola Law School's Project for the Innocent attorneys announced Wednesday that Mendez was released from prison late last month after pleading no contest to manslaughter and child abuse in the death of her grandson. Under a deal with Los Angeles County prosecutors, she was re-sentenced to the time served.
In an interview Wednesday, Mendez said she was in her native Mexico with one of her sons. Eight of her 10 children reside in the U.S.
“Finally, I have my liberty,” Mendez said.
"I can feel the air outside, I can see the birds, I can see the sun when it rises, I feel so happy to be outside," she told NBC Bay Area.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.