CINCINNATI — A state appeals court on Friday reversed the murder conviction of a woman accused of burning her baby daughter to death in a microwave oven.
The 2nd District Ohio Court of Appeals made the ruling in the case of China Arnold, sentenced in 2008 to life in prison without parole for the death of her month-old daughter.
Arnold was convicted of aggravated murder for killing 28-day-old Paris Talley in August 2005. Prosecutors said Arnold intentionally put the baby in the microwave after a fight with her boyfriend. They said the couple had argued over whether the boyfriend was the biological father.
Arnold was sentenced following her second trial; her first ended in a mistrial when new witnesses surfaced.
The Dayton-based appeals court ruled there was prosecutorial misconduct and that the trial court erred in not allowing a material witness for the defense to testify.
Montgomery County prosecutors are reviewing the ruling before commenting, prosecutor's spokesman Greg Flannagan said.
Linda Williams, a cellmate of Arnold and main witness for the state in the first trial, came forward after Arnold's conviction and said she had lied to the jury when she said Arnold confessed that she put her daughter in the microwave oven. Williams failed to appear at the second trial and the court allowed the prosecution to play a videotape of her earlier trial testimony implicating Arnold.
In the second trial, the appeals court said, the lower court denied the defendant "her right to a fair trial when the court permitted the state to introduce in evidence Williams' testimony from the first trial." The appeals court cited prior case law that says a fair trial demands that the accused be tried on "evidence produced in open court by witnesses who can be confronted, cross-examined and rebutted."
The appeals court found misconduct by prosecutors by their failure in the first trial to provide timely notice of Williams' address to the defense. The limited opportunity prosecutors allowed the defense to interview Williams — for only few minutes before her trial testimony — denied an adequate opportunity for preparation for cross-examination of Williams, the appeals court said.
As a result, the defendant was denied "the right of prior confrontation" as required when former testimony of a hearsay witness is admitted in evidence," the court said.
The trial court also erred in not allowing the defense to introduce evidence at the second trial from a new witness, whose statements the defense contended contradicted Williams' testimony, the ruling said. The new witness, Kyra Woods, would have testified to the jury that Williams told her that Arnold never confessed to her that she put the baby in the microwave, defense attorney Jon Paul Rion said.
Woods was a cellmate of Williams after Williams left the cell she shared with Arnold.
"We are very thrilled about the results," Rion said Friday. "We realized from the first day she was innocent and we have maintained that."
Rion said his client was "elated when she heard news and said she always confident in the judicial system."
He said he hopes that Arnold will be back in the Montgomery County jail within a week, and he plans to seek a bail hearing as soon as possible.