Christina Boyer: How a Dutch photographer fights for an American women, wrongly imprisoned for murdering her own child.

Dutch artist and photographer Jan Banning stands up for the American Christina Boyer who ‘escaped’ a death sentence,only to wither away in prison. And if nothing happens, she will remain there the rest of her life.

 

 

Christina Boyer is being held in the Pulaski woman’s prison in the American state of Georgia. She (then still known as Tina Resch) and her brand new boyfriend David Herrin, were arrested when she was only 22. They were both accused of the murder of her three year old daughter, Amber.

Around noon on April 14th, 1992, Christina left David’s trailer, where she was staying with Amber. She took his car. When she returned, six hours later, David was waiting for her, a look of wild dispair on his face, crying:“I can’t get Amber up!”
What she found inside was every mother’s worst nightmare: she “(…) went in the room, and Amber was lying there, and (…) she wasn’t breathing.”

Together, they raced her daughter to the hospital in the nearby town of Carrollton, but it all turned out to be futile: an hour later, Amber was declared dead. The autopsy report ruled that her death was caused by“blunt-force trauma of the head and abdomen (in particular lacerationsof the pancreas).”.

A true witch hunt

For two and a half long years, Christine Boyer was kept on remand, grieving her child and fearing what might be next. The media had labelled her a kind of witch and degenerate mother. Fellow prisoners tore up her photos of Amber and flushed the pieces down the toilet. Her chances to get a fair trial with an unbiased jury seemed minimal. During these two and a halfyears, she saw her court-appointed pro-bono Lawyer, Jimmy Berry, no more than three times. The unmotivated impression that he gave off only fuelled her fear of being convicted.

Christina wasn’t entire stable to begin with. As a ten-month old baby, her mother gave her up for adoption. She was taken into a foster family in Columbia, Ohio and renamed Tine Resch. In order to escape the constant conflicts she had with her foster family, as well as the alleged sexual abuse of her stepbrother, she threw herself into marriage without second thought. Her husband turned out to be violent and she was abused. In order to escape him, she and Amber took the bus to an acquaintance: William Roll, a professor of parapsychology, living over six hundred miles to the south in the quaint little town of Carrollton, located in the conservativecountryside of Georgia.

During his third visit, after approximately thirty months in jail, pro-bono lawyer Berry dazzled Christina with the comment that she would most likely get a death sentence. He offered her one chance to avoid this: an Alford Plea. This is a rarely used and rather bizarre deed of compromis in which a suspect holds on to their plea of not guilty while simultaneously accepting a proposed sentence in order to escape a more severe one, such as the death sentence.In practice, this is still regarded as the suspect being declared guilty. If Christina did not agree, Berry told her he would pull back. Frantic due to the threat of execution and influenced by a hefty dose of antipsychotics, she agreed. The judge sentenced her to life imprisonment, plus twenty years, for”murder by by failing to seek proper medical attention” and “aggravated battery for seriously disfiguring [Amber’s] pancreas.”

 

 

Convinced of her innocence

I had the chance to briefly meet Christina Boyer in 2013 when, after one and a half year of pulling strings, the Georgia Department of Corrections finally granted me access to a few prisons in Georgia, amongst which Pulaski woman’s prison. In an improvised studio, I shot portraits of dozens of female prisoners.

In the months that followed I used the few questions I had been allowed to ask them in order to search the internet for their stories. Christina was one of the last, and the more I read, the more I became convinced that she was an innocent woman.

During the court case against her boyfriend David, a couple of months after she had accepted the Alford plea (and as such her case was closed), there was evidence thatseemed to exonerate Christina. The doctor that handled Amber’s autopsy, Steven Dunton, was heard under oath, where he stated that the consequences of the blows to Amber’s head would have manifested almost immediately. Because David claimed that Amber had first played and eaten happily for a couple of hours, only succumbing shortly before Christina’s return, it seems likely that if deadlyblows were the cause of death, they must have been sustained during Christina’s absence. No one in the courtroom seemed to contest that Christina had raced her daughter to the hospital immediately after coming home. On top of this, Dunton stated that – although contradictory to his original report – the damage to Amber’s pancreas had not at all been lethal and would probably have healed by itself.

After further research, involving Dutch specialists such as pathologist Frank van de Groot and neurosurgeon Guus Beute only strengthened my first impression: Christina couldn’t have been responsible for the lethal injuries, and had brought her daughter to the hospital immediately.

 

Carrollton, GA, USA: Amber’s Grave.

 

Legal misconduct

By now, 26 years have passed. David was sentenced to 20 years for cruelty to children. He was released in 2011. Christina is still imprisoned. To this day, she has consistently denied the crime she was sentenced for, but as long as she doesn’t show remorse, her chances on parole (conditional early release) are very slight. She regularly suffers from depression and is burdened with guilt. Around last Christmas, she tried to cut her own throat. In an email directed to me, she wrote: ‘Amber was my daughter and it was my responsibility to keep her safe. I go over and over those last days, in my waking hours and sleeping ones, and wish I could just do things differently.’

The story of Christina Boyer shows us of what can possibly go gruesomely wrong in the American legal system, specifically when the poor are considered. With every step I got further into my research, the surroundings got a little shadier. After the bad experience with her first lawyer, Christina sought a new one, Philip Carr, for her Habeasattempt – in which she would fight the legality of her imprisonment. However, this attempt was cut short when Carr was accused and sentenced to 25 years in prison for child abuse and rape. A third layer, who was convinced of her innocence and worked for Christina for free, died from a heart attack.

The medical expertise of Dunton, responsible for Amber’s autopsy report, becamethe center of discussion when, in 2001,his diagnosis of shaken baby syndrome as the cause of death of a toddler was refused by the chief medical examiner for the state of Georgia. A second pathologist that was consulting in the case against Christina, was recently accused of illegally providing opiates in exchange for sexual favors. The doctor that wrongfully prescribed the mourning Christian antipsychotics, Dr. Philippe C. Astin II, was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2009, because he illegally provided medication. On top of all this, the judge that sentenced Christina stepped down in 2012, when he was investigated due to legal misconduct.

On October 1, 2018, two days after Amber;’s ‘virtual’ thirtieth birthday, I received the news that once again, Christina’s parole had been denied because of “insufficient amount of time served to date given the nature and circumstances of your offenses(s) (sic).” She had not yet received the decision letter en heard it from me, over the phone. Her heartbreaking sobbing was cut off after 5 minutes by a computer voice, thanking me kindly for the conversation.

 

 

Public pressure

If Christina Boyer had been sentenced to death, her chances of release would likely have been better: in George (amongst other states) are various organisations that take a stand for the many innocent people on Death Row. However, those organisations have so much work on their hands that innocent people sentenced to long sentences, or even life in prison, can rarely be helped – unless their innocence can be proven with new DNA research.

Recently, thanks to spontaneous donations by friends and supporters, we have been able to hire a specialist post-conviction (parole) lawyer. And after spending two and a half months over three visits to Georgia in 2018, I will return there in March, 2019,  to continue setting Christina’s case in motion. I am trying to build up public pressure with a coalition of academics, artists and media people. Professor Toby Bolsen, Director of a research collaborative in the Department of Political Science (Zoukis Research Collaborative) of Georgia State University has invited me to again give a presentation, on March 13, 2019. Georgetown University’s Law Professor Marc Morjé Howard and associate Professor Martin Tankleff – who himself was exonerated after 17 years in prison – are leading a “Making an Exoneree” class; they plan to take on Christina Boyer’s case in Spring 2019, resulting in it becoming Season 2 of a 6-episode TV series.

There have also been ‘exploratory’ talks with the coproducer of a succesful podcast and with others with connections in the Atlanta film industry. Californian journalist Lauren Markham is talking to national media about a big publication, and a drama professor is searching for ways to turn it into a theater play. Finally, local media Star News in Carrollton has been interviewing me on several occasions (e.g. see here and here), and published a commentary I wrote about Christina’s case..