Nearly 20 years ago, Rosa Jimenez was arrested in Austin for the death of a child in her care. Prosecutors said she choked 21-month-old Brian Gutierrez to death with a wad of paper towels.
Jimenez has always maintained her innocence. And after 18 years behind bars, she’s walking free.
Criminal justice reporter Michael Hall wrote about the case for Texas Monthly and talked about the story with Texas Standard.
Who is Rosa Jimenez, and what happened in 2003?
“Rosa was a teenager who crossed the border into Texas illegally in 1999, came to Austin, found work as a babysitter, fell in love, had a kid and was working as a babysitter at an apartment in North Austin when this little boy in her care choked on a big wad of paper towels. And the EMS people and then the doctors at the hospital and the cops were very suspicious because it was a big wad of paper towels.”
What was the case against her?
“The police arrested her, made a case and the prosecutors prosecuted her that she had done this herself. She said that she didn’t know how it happened, that it must have been the boy doing it by accident. But the state got a bunch of people to testify that, well, it was basically common sense that a 21 month-old couldn’t put this wad down his throat, so she must have done it. There wasn’t a whole lot of science behind it.”
Why was the case controversial?
“She had no history of violence, she had no no criminal record, she had no motive. And a woman down in Mexico did a documentary on (Jimenez), which was very well received down in Mexico. The Mexican government got involved and hired a bunch of lawyers. These lawyers went and hired some modern-day pediatric otolaryngologists who had been working on children’s throats for years and had seen all kinds of things that kids put in their mouths and that make their way down their throats. And these modern-day experts said, well, in fact, this was not common sense that somebody else had to have done this. This kid could very well, and it’s even much more likely that the kid did it himself rather than that Rosa had done it. And so these lawyers filed brief after brief and judges started to finally pay attention.”
What’s next for Jimenez?
“Her case still has to go before the Court of Criminal Appeals. And there are some on the Court of Criminal Appeals who are not so easy to convince about innocence. So she still has to have this opinion by this judge, Judge (Karen) Sage here in Austin this past week be ratified by the Court of Criminal Appeals. So if the CCA affirms this, she’s probably going to be a free woman. She is still in the country illegally. And so I’m sure she’ll have to deal with that at some point. But right now, she is a free woman.”