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Rosa Jimenez, Convicted on ‘Junk Science’, Set for Release After More Than 15 Years in Prison

The Travis County District Attorney’s office had joined the release request and, despite Jimenez being taken into custody by ICE, she is expected to be released today.

Rosa Jimenez appears in court in 2005.Photo by Laura Skelding/USA TODAY Network

Rosa Jimenez was sentenced to 99 years in prison for a crime that likely never occurred. Yesterday, a judge ordered her release on bond, but this morning Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detained her, according to the Travis County District Attorney’s office. She is scheduled to be released from ICE custody today, according to a statement released by the DA’s office. 

José Garza, a former public defender, was elected district attorney in November, after running on a campaign to reform the criminal legal system. 

“Last night, the District Attorney’s Office joined counsel for Ms. Rosa Jimenez requesting Ms. Jimenez’s release,” the DA’s statement reads. “Our office joined defense in arguing that, in light of the testimony and affidavit from our expert witness, Ms. Jimenez is entitled to relief because she is likely innocent.”

Jimenez is currently suffering from advanced kidney disease.

In 2005, Jimenez was convicted of murder and injury to a child. While in prison, an ICE detainer was issued for Jimenez, according to her attorney, Sara Ann Brown, from the law firm Foley & Lardner.

“When the release order came in, by law the prison had to notify ICE that she would no longer be in their custody,” a spokesperson for Travis County District Attorney’s office told The Appeal.

Jimenez is expected to be released this evening. 

“We are looking forward to seeing her reunited with her family,” Brown said in a statement to The Appeal. Jimenez is also represented by the Innocence Project and Kirkland & Ellis. 

When then 20-year-old Jimenez was arrested in 2003, she was pregnant and a mother to a one-year-old daughter. 

On Jan. 30, 2003, Jimenez was babysitting her daughter and a 21-month-old boy, when she noticed the boy was turning purple and having trouble breathing. After trying to clear his airways, she took him to a neighbor’s apartment for help. Another neighbor heard Jimenez screaming, came over, and called 911.

Paramedics eventually dislodged what they later learned was a wad of paper towels from the child’s airways. But because of the lack of oxygen, he suffered serious brain damage and died three months later.

Travis County, Texas, prosecutors charged Jimenez with murder, claiming it was impossible for a child of that age to accidentally swallow a wad of five paper towels. The case rested entirely on that argument. 

With limited funds to hire credible experts to refute the state’s theory, Jimenez’s attorney called only one medical expert—a forensic pathologist—who testified that the boy’s death was an accident. His credibility was undermined, according to a petition filed on Jimenez’s behalf, because he used profanity during his testimony and had an “emotional outburst” while on the stand. 

The child’s death, however, was “likely accidental,” according to the DA’s statement. 

“At the hearing yesterday, three expert witnesses testified that the death of [the boy] was likely accidental,” reads the DA’s statement. “They are all nationally recognized experts in pediatric airway function. Our office also filed an affidavit from one of the original experts who testified. This expert, after having the opportunity to review statements from the pediatric airway experts, said that her original opinion has changed.”