Today is a day of “celebracioun and good cheere,” as Geoffrey Chaucer might say; or, in the words of Robert Browning:
The lark’s on the wing;
The snail’s on the thorn;
God’s in His heaven—
All’s right with the world!
The reason is that Hannah Overton’s murder conviction from 2007 has finally been overturned. I first read about Hannah’s story in January 2012, in an investigative article in the Texas Monthly by Pamela Colloff. The article presents Hannah’s case as an accident-cum-medical-mystery in which Hannah’s foster son Andrew Burd accidentally poisoned himself by eating salt without her knowledge. At the time I thought the account of Hannah’s conviction was too horrible to be true, so I slogged through an additional 200 pages of legal proceedings available at freehannah.com. Not only does the evidence there clearly show Hannah’s own innocence, but it reveals how deeply perverted the judicial system is with which she has had to deal.
Every aspect of Hannah’s case is gut-wrenching. She was branded as a religious sociopath by an unethical prosecution (who withheld Brady evidence!), was convicted of “murder by omission” (what is that?) by a naive and incompetent jury, was separated from her family (including a nursing infant!) to be thrown to the wolves in the Texas prison system, and her appeals were repeatedly denied by a mule of a judge. Her story basically destroyed my world. That is not an exaggeration. One ABC reporter calls Hannah’s case “the story that keeps me up at night.” It kept me up too.
But now the world is partially right again.
In honor of this event, which coincides so happily with the starting of this blog, I’ll be posting a new poem. It’s the first of many pieces I’ve been working on to commemorate Hannah’s case and to grapple with the incredible emotional and spiritual struggles involved. This particular poem focuses on the moment of the conviction seven years ago. That moment was terrible; and it is a moment the world should not forget as it begins to make things right with a woman it has so deeply wronged.