The Minnesota Supreme Court has ordered a new trial for the Oakdale mother who was convicted of killing her newborn -- but not because something went wrong inside the courtroom.
The state's highest court sent a message about the role of medical examiners as independent arbiters of fact and science with the decision.
The horrifying details of the case were never disputed. Nicole Beecroft, a teen mother who was in denial. She delivered the child in a laundry room and stabbed the baby 135 times. The question was whether or not the baby was born alive.
One of the experts -- Dr. Susan Roe, an assistant Dakota County medical examiner -- would have testified for the defense to say there was no way to know whether the child had begun breathing, but her boss, Dakota County Medical Examiner Dr. Lindsey Thomas, pulled the plug on her testimony after receiving a series of threatening e-mails from Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom.
One such message read, "If you wish to be a defense expert, you should not be a public official."
Yet, it wasn't even Backstrom's case because it was being tried in Washington County.
"He was pretty clear that he and the Sheriff would not support my reappointment if my people continued to consult with the defense," said Thomas.
In the end, Roe felt so strongly about the case that she left the state. On Wednesday, the Minnesota Supreme Court said "these mistaken efforts by state actors unquestionably interfered with the independence of medical examiners, undermining Beecroft's constitutional rights."
Thomas says the court's decision underscores a basic misunderstanding about medical examiners: They're not cops. They are scientists, and that meanest they will play on any side the truth can be found on.
"Maybe because we're portrayed on TV running around with guns, we're perceived as being part of the law enforcement team -- and we're not," she said.
Backstrom released a statement about the decision on Wednesday that read:
I never intended to have any adverse impact upon Nicole Beecroft's first trial and I deeply regret having done so. I continue to accept responsibility for my lack of judgment at the time. As the decision of the Minnesota Supreme Court handed down in this matter reflects, there was on-going debate at the time of this trial related to the appropriate role of medical examiners in cases outside of their jurisdictions. This decision has settled that debate. I am confident that this young woman will be treated fairly and justly in future court proceedings.
The Minnesota Supreme Court reprimanded Backstrom three years ago for his conduct in the case.
Washington County is reviewing the reversal to see if they'll hold a new trial. Beecroft, who got life without parole, will remain in custody until that decision is made.