Feb. 20, 2012: Silence broken on death row decade later

by Jerry Mitchell


After a decade of silence behind bars, Jeffrey Havard is speaking about the death of the 6-month-old that landed him on death row.

Ten years ago today, Chloe Britt died, and prosecutors say he sexually abused and killed her. Havard was convicted of capital murder. He admits accidentally dropping her but denies sexually abusing and killing her.

If the state Supreme Court rejects his post-conviction plea, he will move one step closer to execution.

"Not a morning, noon or night passes that I don't think about Chloe and her family," he told The Clarion-Ledger. "Words can't describe how sorry I am for dropping Chloe. Without a second thought, I would do anything to bring her back."

The newspaper posed questions in writing to the 33-year-old inmate regarding the Feb. 21, 2002, death of Chloe.

By the time Chloe arrived at Natchez Community Hospital, she was blue, and her eyes were fixed and dilated, according to medical reports. A nurse noticed the baby's anus was dilated to the size of a quarter, and law enforcement was contacted.

At trial, pathologist Dr. Steven Hayne, who performed the autopsy, testified the death was consistent with shaken baby syndrome and that an anal contusion was "consistent with penetration of the rectum with an object."

But Hayne since has acknowledged that dilated anal sphincters also may be seen on people without significant brain function and that the anal contusion was not sufficient to determine a sexual assault occurred. A rape kit conducted at the time found no evidence of semen.

At The Clarion-Ledger's request, world-renowned pathologist Dr. Michael Baden examined the autopsy report and has since examined the autopsy photographs.

He found no evidence of sexual abuse, he said. "That anus is perfectly normal. It's not abnormal in any way."

He said he found no evidence of homicide or shaken baby syndrome. The injuries were consistent with her being dropped, he said.

After deputies took Havard to the station, they told him Chloe had been raped and "ripped from end to end," Havard said. He said he was stunned and remained mute.

When deputies later told him Chloe had died of a "subdural hemorrhage," he said he realized his dropping the baby had caused her death.

After giving Chloe a bath, he lost his grip on her, and she fell between the tub and the toilet, hitting her head on the porcelain near the floor, he told The Clarion-Ledger.

"That's how I dropped her," he said. "I was kind of stooping over."

During trial, he sat stunned, he said. "The only reason I couldn't cry is I was like a deer caught in the headlights."

He said Chloe's mother, Rebecca Britt, and her family deserve the truth as much as he does - that Chloe died from him dropping her and was never sexually abused.

Asked if she had seen any signs Havard sexually abused Chloe in the past, Britt replied, "If I had suspected it, I would have killed him then."

Britt told the newspaper that Havard had no relationship with Chloe and never changed her diaper.

Havard disputed that claim, saying he helped take care of Chloe. "I would feed her in the morning and change her," he said.

While Britt slept, he would watch Chloe and turn on the television to Blue's Clues, he said.

In a videotaped interview shortly after Chloe's death, Britt portrayed Havard as caring, saying, "He loved Chloe."

In closing arguments at trial, District Attorney Ronnie Harper said he had never seen someone look more guilty.

When deputies confronted Havard about the sexual abuse, Harper quoted him as replying, "I don't think I did. I don't recollect doing it. I don't know."

Harper told jurors, "Folks, if you hadn't done that, you'd be saying, 'Hell, no. I didn't do it.'"

Havard said he did adamantly deny sexual abuse claims for about two hours before the videotaped questioning began.

Tired of the "browbeating," he mirrored questions the deputies posed, he said. "I was asked, 'Do you recall doing this?' I answered, 'No, I don't recall.'"

Britt told The Clarion-Ledger she wishes authorities would let her kill him and save the taxpayers money.

Asked about this, Havard replied, "If that would bring Chloe back, I would let her do it. I know I'm responsible for dropping her. There's not a day I don't think about it."

"Words can't describe how sorry I am for dropping Chloe. Without a second thought, I would do anything to bring her back."

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