Only Woman in U.S. Ever Exonerated from Death Row to Speak at EKU

Sabrina Butler photo

The only woman in the United States ever exonerated from Death Row will speak at Eastern Kentucky University on Wednesday, April 8.

Sabrina Butler was a Mississippi teenager who was convicted of murder and child abuse in the death of her nine-month-old son, Walter. She was later exonerated of all wrongdoing.

She will share her story in a 5 p.m. presentation in O’Donnell Hall of the Whitlock Building. The event is free and open to the public.

Butler rushed Walter to the hospital on April 12, 1989, after he suddenly stopped breathing. Doctors attempted to resuscitate the child for 30 minutes but failed, and he died the next day. The very day of her son's death, Butler was arrested for child abuse due to bruises on his body.

Butler's murder trial began in March 1990. Prosecutors sought to prove that the defendant’s account of the events leading to her son's death was false, and that she had inflicted the fatal wounds intentionally. Butler did not testify at her trial, and was convicted of both murder and child abuse, becoming the only woman on Mississippi's Death Row at the time.

Following her conviction, Butler filed an appeal with the Supreme Court of Mississippi. The courts reversed and remanded her convictions in 1992, declaring that the prosecution had failed to prove that the incident was anything more than an accident.

 Butler’s case went to retrial in 1995. One of Butler's neighbors had come forward with evidence that corroborated her account that the injuries to her son occurred during the course of an unsuccessful attempt to administer CPR. In addition, the medical examiner changed his opinion about the boy's cause of death, which he now believed occurred due to a kidney malady. Butler was exonerated on Dec. 17, 1995, after spending more than five years in prison and 33 months on death row.

Today, Butler still lives in the same town where she was convicted, with her husband, Joe Porter, and three children. She speaks feequently to the public and media about her heartbreaking story, and recently published a memoir, "The Sabrina Butler Story."

Her visit to EKU campus is being coordinated by the student organization Young Americans for Liberty.

Published on March 23, 2015

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