The conviction of Manjit Kaur Basuta for shaking a child to death has raised many questions concerning the justness of her trial and the lack of publicity given to her horrendous treatment.
On June 15, Manjit Basuta was found guilty of killing 13-month old Oliver Smith, a child in her care at the Day Care Centre in Carmel Valley, San Diego, California. Manjit, a married mother with three sons, lived in Slough, and later Ascot, where she worked as a State Enrolled Nurse in several hospitals for 20 years before moving, with her husband and family, to Carmel Valley in 1989 where she set up a nursery. In March 1998, Oliver Smith was injured at the nursery. The ‘Free Manjit Basuta Campaign’ say that Oliver was
“injured as a result of having been pushed by a child and falling on the patio
“. The prosecution alleged that Manjit had
“violently shaken Oliver”
to death and were able to convince the jury that Manjit was guilty of charge 273ab (assault on a child under the age of 8 resulting in death) and she thus faces a mandatory sentence of from 25 years to life.
Manjit has always maintained her innocence and there is overwhelming evidence to support her case. Not only did her lawyer, Eugene Iredale, highlight 32 ‘reasonable doubts’ as to why the case should be declared a mis-trial, but also, on 9th July, Stephen Jakobi of the European citizens legal rights organisation, ‘Fair Trials Abroad’, issued the following statement highlighting issues which make the trial contrary to International Law and Domestic Law.
“We are particularly concerned about the following characteristics of this case: Exclusion of evidence relevant to this case by the trial Judge, including expert testimony for the defence and evidence relating to complaints against the mother of the child made by the father to the police; hampering of defence conduct of the case and prejudicial remarks by the prosecutor including mis-statements of law. If any of the particulars are correct then the princple of equality of arms between prosecution and defence has been broken. This is contrary to International Law and Domestic Law”.
Doubts in the existing trial
Bearing in mind that the prosecution must prove that the defendant is guilty beyond all reasonable doubt, the defence claimed that the trial exposed several discrepancies:
1.) The prosecution claimed that Manjit shook the baby when he refused to come to her after she called him to have his nappy changed. As a result Oliver had a seizure and Manjit ran with him outside. But there was no nappy on Oliver when paramedics came to take him to hospital;
2.) During the trial, the prosecution claim that vomit was found near the patio door were found to be totally untrue;
3.) The main prosecution witness, Christine Carillo, changed her statement frequently. In total, the defence admitted she changed her statement 12 times (an early statement saying that Oliver was pushed by another child was changed to ‘Shaken Baby Syndrome’);
4.) Dr Harry Bonnell, one of the medical officers who carried out the post mortem on Oliver which stated the cause of death as ‘Shaken Baby Syndrome’, has been struck off pending an investigation into malpractice;
5.) Oliver weighed 34 lbs. and, according to biomedical experts, it is very difficult to violently shake a child of this weight. Dr. Mike Jones, a British doctor, who attempted to present this evidence, was prevented from doing so by the Judge;
6.) Oliver’s mother and grandmother both admitted that Oliver had suffered a seizure in the bath approximately 4 weeks prior to his death.
Sukhdev Singh of the Basuta Campaign believes these facts point directly to the innocence of Manjit.
Evidence excluded from trial
Evidence that the Judge excluded from the trial could have had completely changed the outcome for Manjit.
Evidence that Oliver had fallen from a kitchen table while in his mother’s care was not allowed to be presented to the trial. Oliver’s mother, Audrey Amorale, admitted in a deposition that while staying at her mother’s condominium in Antonio, Oliver had fallen from a car seat left on the kitchen table. The incident was recorded after Oliver’s father, Albert, went to the police. Audrey confessed that she was feeding baby Oliver while he was in an unstrapped car seat left on top of the table when he fell off. She claimed that she had called the hospital minutes after Oliver fell, but her claim was found to be false.
The Judge prevented this information and line of enquiry being followed at the trial.
Manjit Kaur Basuta is a British citizen facing a mis-trial of justice in a foreign country. When Louise Woodward was found guilty, rightly or wrongly, in similar circumstances, everyone in Britain knew not only about the case, but about every minute of the trial and also of the pain felt by her family and relatives. Now an Asian woman faces 25 years in jail, without having a fair trial, few people outside of the Asian community have even heard this lady’s name, let alone the suffering of herself, her 3 sons, her husband and family. Why should we all not be outraged at the treatment meted out to this British citizen in America? Why should not ALL British citizens hear about this travesty of justice and be indignant at Manjit’s treatment?
The lack of publicity for this case can only be explained by the fact that she is not white and the media in this country rarely gives a high profile to campaigns for justice for non-white Britons. It must be remembered that when Stephen Lawrence was murdered in 1993, little newspaper publicity or sympathy from political leaders was given to the Lawrence family – rather the reverse – they were made to feel as if they were the ones who had committed a crime. Only now, after their determined campaign, has the British public been able to learn something of the horrendous task they faced in trying to achieve some justice for the loss of their young son.
Let us all do what we can to ensure that the courageous and determined spirit of the Lawrence family continues to be an example to us all. Let everyone bombard local pap ers, etc. with letters and press statements concerning the tragedy facing Manjit and her family. Lawyers are appealing for a re-trial. Manjit has, however, not yet been sentenced (the 5th August date was postponed) for her alleged crime, so the very least all our readers can do is send letters to The Honourable William Kennedy, San Diego Superior Court, 220 West Broadway, San Diego CA 92101, USA, appealing for leniency in sentencing and demanding a re-trial.
[Up dates on the Campaign can be obtained from 51 Chalvey Road West, Slough, Berks; Email: email@example.com; Tel: 01753-530531]