She could still be sent back to prison.
State Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen this week announced that his office will ask the Wisconsin Supreme Court to overturn an appellate court ruling granting Audrey Edmunds a new trial due to new doubts about the evidence used to convict her.
According to Van Hollen, the Jan. 31 decision by the 4th District Court of Appeals "applies a novel legal analysis that may tend to upset the finality of all convictions where scientific evidence was properly adduced at trial and where a defendant had the opportunity to fairly and fully present his or her case."
Edmunds, who has always maintained her innocence, spent 11 years behind bars after being convicted of causing the 1995 death of an infant in her care. Now 46, she was released from prison on Feb. 6, a week after the appellate decision was handed down.
The 4th District ruled that Dane County Judge Daniel Moeser used the wrong standard in rejecting Edmunds' request for a new trial. Moeser, who had presided over her original trial in 1996, assessed the totality of evidence "and concluded that the state's evidence was stronger," the court wrote.
But Moeser, the court said, should have instead determined whether a jury, hearing the new as well as old evidence, would have still voted to convict. By this test, there was "a reasonably probability that a jury" would have found reasonable doubt and rendered a "not guilty" verdict.
Had the appeals court not ruled at all, Edmunds would have definitely been finished with prison by February 2009, her mandatory release date. But now she may now spend the next couple of years with the threat of being returned to prison hanging like a Damocles Sword above her head.
, and the Supreme Court could take several months to decide whether to take the case. Should the Supremes overturn the appellate court, Edmunds would be on the hook for the remaining year of her prison term. Her lawyers could file a motion seeking the suspension of her sentence, but there are no guarantees.
And even if the court decides not to take the case, or ultimately upholds the appellate court ruling, Edmunds faces the possibility of being retried.
Dane County District Attorney Brian Blanchard, whose office supported letting Edmunds go free while these matters are resolved, says he won't decide whether to retry the case unless or until the case is remanded to the trial court level.
In another case last fall, Blanchard announced within hours of an appellate court ruling overturning the convictions of former state Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen and his former aide, that he would retry the case if need be. That he is making no such commitment here may bode well for Edmunds.
Indeed, Blanchard says one of the factors behind treating the two cases differently is that Edmunds, unlike Jensen, has already "served a substantial prison term." The cost and difficulty of staging a second trial and the fact that Edmunds faces only a small amount of additional time behind bars would also likely be taken into consideration.
to even contemplate. She has already served more than twice as long behind bars as will Eugene Zapata, who has admitted to deliberately murdering his wife and stashing her body in various places for decades. (A fresh conviction would not likely bring Edmunds a stiffer sentence than the one she got in 1996.)
But more is at stake here: If the state's effort to overturn the appellate court fails and Edmunds is not retried, she would avoid a criminal record, meaning she could truthfully answer "No" to the question, "Have you ever been convicted of a crime?"
Of course, Blanchard frames the issue less harshly, saying "We don't try cases only in order to seek punishment in the form of prison terms." Another consideration is "to hold people accountable for their conduct."
That's something the justice system itself never has to worry about.