Audrey Edmunds with her three daughters in 1996, shortly before a jury convicted her of first-degree reckless homicide, sending her to prison.

An 11-Year Nightmare

Suburban Married Mom Wrongfully Convicted of 'Shaken Baby Syndrome'

May 2016

Audrey Edmunds with her three daughters in 1996, shortly before a jury convicted her of first-degree reckless homicide, sending her to prison.

Editor’s Note: On October 16, 1995, a seven-month-old girl died while in the care of a 34-year-old Waunakee, Wisconsin married mother of two, Audrey Edmunds. An autopsy revealed extensive brain damage and a pathologist determined the cause of death to be Shaken Baby Syndrome. Audrey, pregnant with her third child, was arrested, charged and convicted of first-degree reckless homicide.

Never wavering from her claims of innocence, it took nearly 11 years for Audrey to clear her name. With the help of the Wisconsin Innocence Project and new medical research that cast serious doubt on the legitimacy of Shaken Baby Syndrome, a court of appeals overturned her conviction in 2008.

During her time behind bars, her husband divorced her, and she missed out on the childhoods of her three young daughters. Today, she continues to pick up the pieces of her life.

Audrey will be featured in The Reporters Inc.’s upcoming documentary about wrongful convictions, The Innocent Convicts. You can watch clips of her interview, and see photos from her life, here.

Along with her friend and co-author Jill Wellington, Audrey has written a book about her ordeal. It’s called It Happened to Audrey: It Could Happen to You (A Terrifying Journey from Loving Mom to Accused Baby Killer) and The Reporters Inc. is pleased to excerpt a portion of it this month. Audrey’s frightening experiences with law enforcement and a criminal justice system intent on imprisoning her at any cost will break your heart, outrage you, and hopefully help you realize that a wrongful conviction truly can happen to you, or someone you love.  We pick up her story on the night before her sentencing.

 

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That night, I lay in bed for a long time, unable to fall asleep, a million thoughts crowding around demanding my attention, and all of them frightening. I finally dozed off only to awaken early the next morning. Soon, Allison and Jenny (Audrey’s two-and-a-half and one-year-old daughters) tumbled out of bed and wanted breakfast, so I took them downstairs to the kitchen, drinking in the happiness shining from their sparkling eyes.

I dressed in an ivory skirt and pink sweater not knowing if I would wear pretty clothes again for the next forty years. The judge had the option to sentence me to probation, so I still had a slim hope that I would not face prison. Soon it was time to depart, but Carrie (Audrey’s oldest daughter, a kindergartener at the time) was still asleep. I slipped into the bedroom and put my arms around her. Leaning forward I kissed her, my heart so heavy I thought it would explode. I had to hold back sobs when I hugged and kissed Allison and Jenny goodbye. When would I see them again?

As if the state hadn’t demolished my spirit enough at the trial, it wasn’t finished with me yet. (Assistant District Attorney) Gretchen Hayward began by addressing the judge.

“Your honor, this murder is more aggravated than any other first degree reckless homicide I can think of because it’s the murder of a baby. It’s one of the worst crimes to occur in Dane County and one of the most violent. That’s because it’s a hands-on murder. Audrey Edmunds murdered Natalie Beard with her bare hands. She shook Natalie until she could feel the life leaving that little baby.”

Steve (Hurley, Audrey’s attorney) protested, but Judge (Daniel) Moeser overruled him. “This is a sentencing. It’s pretty wide open and people can say what they want to say and we can argue the weight it should be given,” the judge replied.

Hayward continued on, explaining that Natalie’s only way of protecting herself was to attempt to tell her parents she was unhappy with me by crying. However, her parents didn’t understand, and although they heard her cries, they couldn’t act in time. Now, they would have to suffer for the rest of their lives, knowing that they left their child with her murderer, who had shown no guilt or remorse.

“Natalie did the only thing a six-month-old baby could do to protect herself. She cried when she got to the defendant’s house that day,” Hayward said. “Her cries were ‘don’t leave me here!’ That only irritated the defendant more. Rather than telling Cindy (Beard, Natalie’s mother) ‘Please don’t leave Natalie with me because she’s driving me nuts, take her home with you,’ the defendant had to keep up her superficial act. ‘I am so wonderful. Nothing fazes me.’

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The Wisconsin home where Audrey Edmunds, her husband, and her three daughters lived; Audrey also babysat children here, including seven-month-old Natalie Beard.

“The defendant did not love Natalie as she loved her own children, as she testified. And if she did, God help her own children. Natalie did not like the defendant and Edmunds did not like her because of her treatment at the defendant’s house. Couple that with the rest of the stresses in this defendant’s life, like a marriage that, according to her own psychologist, will not withstand a separation.”

There it was. Hayward had seized the psychologist’s assessment and used it to her own ends, as well as tearing apart my character and my morning with Natalie.

Even in my confused state of mind, I could not understand how Hayward or Judge Moeser could measure how I loved. Love is true and genuine and cannot be measured by another. There are no love scales that calculate love percentages. The two of them took my heartfelt statement and twisted it into another atrocious lie.

“The defendant could have called Cindy or Tom (Beard, Natalie’s father) that morning to say she didn’t feel good and come and get your baby,” Hayward continued. “They would have come in a heartbeat. She could have put the baby in a room and left her…shut the door and not listened to her irritability. But she chose to take all her frustrations out on this little infant.

“She grabbed Natalie in a fury and shook that innocent little girl with an unimaginable force, then threw her…discarded her. She meant nothing to the defendant. She still means nothing to the defendant.

“I’m sorry, but what the defendant did goes beyond snapping. It shows a degree of anger I cannot imagine. A degree of hatred I cannot imagine. I do not believe that any pro-social person could commit this crime—could, with her bare hands, murder a baby within one hour of that baby arriving in her home.”

It was absolutely heart wrenching to sit and listen to these lies!

“How cruel you have been, Audrey Edmunds,” Hayward prolonged. “And to add to the cruelty, she pointed the finger at the parents. Tom and Cindy were in mourning, yet they were slandered and scorned and made to move from their home. It is because she is a murderer, a liar and a perjurer.

“The psychologist hired by the defendant found Edmunds emotionally fragile and suspicious to the point of paranoia. She has an over-controlled denial system. She’s superficially charming and personally insecure.

“It is a strong circumstantial explanation that this defendant shook Natalie before. The defendant has such a deep-seeded denial, fueled by her support system, that she does not accept responsibility and cannot offer one shred of remorse.”

Hayward called me a “perfect mother who, according to her own defense expert, can only withstand moderate amounts of stress before becoming a dysfunctional parent. Are her own children really safe? Maybe prison will protect those children.”

When did anyone, including my psychologist, witness me as a dysfunctional parent? Never!

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(L) Audrey with her daughters Allison and Carrie in 1994; (R) Audrey celebrating her daughter Jenny’s first birthday in February 1997, two days before she was sentenced to 18 years in prison.

Hayward finally wound down and declared I had made the choice to murder Natalie and thus was completely responsible for being separated from my own children.

“I recommend the defendant be sentenced to twenty-five years in the Wisconsin State Prison System, contribute five thousand dollars to the cost of prosecuting this case, and pay for Natalie’s burial expenses and any future expenses the Beards incur as a result of her murder.”

Steve did his best to temper Hayward’s annihilation of my life and character.

“It is, when one is found guilty of a wrongdoing, easy to point fingers. It is easy to abuse. It is easy to view them as one-dimensional and shallow. Ms. Edmunds is not one-dimensional and shallow,” Steve said. “It is not as Ms. Hayward told you that she has more to lose than most. Audrey has more to contribute than most to her family and the community. It is not speculation or hope. It is premised on a lifetime of conduct.”

The Beards stood stiffly in front of the courtroom. Cindy read from a paper that she prepared beforehand. She said I was cruel to kill their daughter and not accept responsibility.  She expressed grief for all they would miss watching her grow up and it was all my fault.

“Judge Moeser, show no mercy to Audrey Edmunds,” Cindy said. “Not for us, but for Natalie and all the other babies and children who need protection from adults. Please sentence Audrey Edmunds to tell us all the truth.”

Tom Beard didn’t speak and never looked at me during the trial or sentencing. That was odd, because a couple of weeks after Natalie’s death he passed me in the car and waved at me with a smile on his face. The prosecution had corrupted Tom and Cindy’s minds with lies. The Beards and the jury were blinded by speculation, not truth. As a result, neither Natalie nor her parents received the justice they deserved.

Nobody spoke on my behalf, which Steve recommended, saying that at this point, no matter what positive words people might have for me, they’d be damned by the DA. He felt supporters’ statements would fall on cold hearts and deaf ears. I accepted his counsel and agreed.  After all, I was under vicious, unthinkable attack.

After everyone had spoken, Judge Moeser gave me the opportunity to speak. I had thought about this statement with great passion the weeks before sentencing.  I’d run through many ideas, but in the last hours I decided to say something in true compassion, but not denial. I had nothing to deny. I knew the court and everyone on the prosecution side wanted an apology, but I had nothing to apologize for. I stood and spoke from the defense table.

“To Tom and Cindy, relatives and friends, I just want you to know I am terribly saddened with the death of Natalie. God bless you all.”

The few words I spoke were true, heartfelt and I hoped showed my compassion.

My heart started to pummel when Judge Moeser finally spoke. My entire future and my family’s were in his hands. He talked about the seventy or so letters he received from supporting family and friends…(expressing)…strong support and Moeser said he was especially touched by Dave’s (Audrey’s husband) letter, which explained just how damaging a prison term would be for our family.

“Mrs. Edmunds raised concern in the pre-sentence interview that the jury was not always attentive. But this jury was as attentive and thoughtful as any jury I have ever seen. I had the opportunity to see them and speak with them shortly after the verdict. All of them were profoundly affected. Let there be no doubt that they made the right decision.

To Tom and Cindy Beard, I hope that today helps you on your journey to recovery. The jury believed you and I believe you. I think all reasonable, open-minded members of this community believe you.”

He said it so blatantly, I was stunned. Judge Moeser thought I did it, too. The juror we (later) talked with, Terry Temple, confirmed this. (Audrey’s co-author Jill Wellington interviewed him while writing this book.) He said Moeser congratulated the jury on the correct verdict. I was absolutely presumed guilty from the day Natalie died. Even the judge pegged me.

Judge Moeser continued, “A person does not have the right to get up on the witness stand and lie. A person who admits their crime, accepts responsibility for their conduct and tells the truth under oath is much further along the path of rehabilitation than someone who does not. Mrs. Edmunds has yet to accept responsibility and that says something about her character.

She needs extensive therapy and treatment to help her eventually recognize and accept the reality of the situation. The community needs protection from someone who is unable to accept responsibility.”

I started to quake when Judge Moeser said probation would depreciate the seriousness of the crime. He also said he rarely has a prosecution request to pay a portion for their costs and would take it under advisement. He ordered me to pay restitution to the Beards for their expenses and imposed mandatory court costs.  Dave ended up paying the Beards $3,700.

“I am recommending to the Department of Corrections and the Parole Board that Mrs. Edmunds not be released on parole, transferred to the Division of Intensive Sanctions or released from custody prior to her mandatory release date until and unless she unequivocally confesses to this crime and makes it known to the victims.

“The sentence I am imposing is eighteen years in the Wisconsin State Prison System to commence forthwith. Bail is revoked. We are adjourned.”

He said it so quickly it was hard to understand the full impact. I did hear eighteen years and my stomach dropped. I also heard something about having to admit guilt before I could be released on probation. Was this legal? Could a judge force an innocent person to admit guilt?

Steve told me later judges can and often do insist prisoners admit guilt. He had seen it many times. Steve thought my sentence was heart wrenching and cruel. The judge was guaranteeing that I would not raise my children. “He knew what he was doing,” Steve said. “You took this baby, and I’m going to take yours.”

Two sheriff’s deputies immediately handcuffed me behind my back right in the courtroom and my whole world crumbled.

As the deputy led me out, I glanced over my shoulder and caught my dad’s blanched, terrified face. Tears streamed down his cheeks and I saw my sister-in-law Mary crying, too. I looked at Dave, frozen on his feet, his arms folded over his chest as if to shield himself from this horror. I’m going to prison and my girls are losing their mother, I silently screamed, as they led me out of the courtroom.

I couldn’t stop trembling as the deputies led me to a holding cell in the basement of the courthouse. The cell was about twelve-by-sixteen feet with brick walls, a brick bench around two walls for sitting, and a metal toilet out in the open. I stared at the concrete floor, strewn with paper garbage and God knew what germs. The deputies shut the heavy metal door with a sickening clang that reverberated throughout my body.

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Audrey, led away to jail after her conviction. She would spend the next 11 years behind bars.

I saw a telephone on the wall and quickly picked up the receiver. All I could think was, “I want to call someone and hear a friendly, familiar voice.”

I called Patti Larson (Audrey’s neighbor and close friend) and her husband Jeff answered. I heard his strong voice, said hello, and then burst into tears. He was wonderful, and offered me many words of encouragement.  I pictured him in their house, where I had spent many happy afternoons with Patti, and wished I could be back in my cozy home where I belonged. Instead, I was here in a cold, dank jail cell. And this was just the beginning! Many months later, Patti told me that when she returned home from the courthouse, she found her strapping husband, all six-feet-five and 290 pounds, crying like a baby, his heart aching for me.

I was issued a blue V-neck shirt, blue elastic waist pants, tube socks and brown plastic shower shoes along with a bag. They told me to change into these clothes and put my own outfit in the bag—and that was the last I saw of pretty clothes.

After the clothing change, I waited alone in the cold, dreary cell for hours.  Finally, I was handcuffed again and led to a jail medic. I told her I had a sinus infection and was taking an antibiotic.

“You can continue the prescription,” she said, “But we will issue new pills. Some inmates tamper with their own medications and try to smuggle in mind-altering drugs.”

I had no idea people did this sort of thing!  I was definitely entering a world totally foreign to me.

The medic checked my vital signs and asked if I had problems with depression. Although I told her “no,” I was totally numb from the court procedure and its outcome. I was still disbelieving that Judge Moeser had completely ignored the state’s own probation/parole agent’s recommendations that I serve only one year. Nor did they offer me any medicine or counseling for my fear and shock.

The booking process was humiliating and felt like a bad scene from a movie. But this was real life for me with fingerprinting, mug shots and paperwork. Worst of all was the dreaded strip search. It had been one of my biggest fears entering prison, and afterwards I had definitely been stripped of all dignity.

I was then given a worn brown blanket and taken to a regular jail cell. I swear the metal door weighed ten tons as the guard with the keys clanked it open and I stepped inside the stuffy space. He removed my handcuffs and left me in the sparse room. Looking around, I saw a table in the middle, a metal toilet and shower to the right, and metal bunk beds lining the other three walls.

As my eyes slowly scanned my new living facility, I finally noticed I was not alone. In fact, there were several women sitting on the bunks. Two were sleeping while two others said “Hello.” I was very nervous at the thought of being alone with these women.  Were these my permanent roommates?  I couldn’t imagine using the toilet or shower with no curtain for privacy!

I tentatively took a seat on one of the bunks. The mattress was only about two inches thick and covered with heavy royal blue plastic. The head of the mattress was angled with a pillow enclosed within it, sort of a one-piece sleeping pad.

Soon, food was delivered on a plastic tray. I couldn’t even identify it, and my stomach was too upset to eat. All I could think about was my girls. I wondered what they would think when Mommy didn’t come home. How would Dave ever explain to these precious children what had happened to their mother?

The other women weren’t mean, but they weren’t compassionate, either. Some were making a return trip to prison and knew the ropes. For them, jail was a safe house with a bed and meals. Others were withdrawing from drugs and acting crazy.

I was cautious of them all, but they told me I would be okay. However, I didn’t believe them. How could I relate to these women or to prison in any way?

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See more photos from Audrey’s life and watch video clips from her in-depth interview with The Reporters Inc. (for our upcoming documentary, The Innocent Convicts) by clicking here.

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Early in the evening, a guard came to get me. I had visitors! I was shocked, but also thrilled at the prospect of seeing familiar faces.

I was taken to a room with three telephones, and on the other side of the Plexiglass window, I saw Dave, my parents, friends and neighbors. I was most anxious to talk with Dave to find out how he had handled the girls.

“I told Carrie that Mommy was going away for a little while,” Dave said, trying to reassure me.” I told her Mommy will call her and soon be able to see her again.”

My heart broke when he told me Carrie had cried at these words, followed by Allison, who burst into tears as well.

I was relieved to learn that my mom and dad were moving in with Dave to help with the children. Although they would keep their home in Hudson, they would live with Dave from Monday to Friday to provide loving care and support and help clean and cook. I knew this was good for everyone concerned.

Other family and friends took turns talking with me by telephone. We fumbled for words but it was wonderful to see them, and we shared our pain and shock, each handling it in our own way.

Some of my friends flattened their hands against the thick plastic and I placed mine against theirs. We felt love and hope through all the madness. After a couple of hours, visiting time was over and the people I loved so much had to leave in their pretty clothes to return to warm, loving homes.

I was left behind, alone, cold and frightened. They took me back to the cell, where I flopped onto the hard bed and stared at the wall.  I was so overwrought, I buried my head under the thin blanket and wept, my heart shattered into a million pieces.  A light above my bed glared less than two feet from my head, which I couldn’t turn off because it was controlled outside my cell. Finally, at 11 p.m., it went off and I gratefully fell asleep, through my dreams finally able to escape my imprisonment for a few short hours.

A jail officer awakened me about four o’clock the next morning and put me into another tiny cell with two other women. I had no idea what was going on and I was afraid. One of the women had already been to the state pen and knew the routine. I was so frightened! We were given a plastic tray with two pieces of soggy toast, cold cereal and a cup of milk with a spoon, but I couldn’t eat; my stomach was in knots. Nobody explained what was happening to us, and every event seemed to become a long, drawn-out process.

Finally, the jail officer gave me a big, ugly green jacket, handcuffed me again and this time, as tears filled my eyes, I watched as they shackled me around my ankles. I felt as if the flames of hell were licking at my feet.

Still wearing the same clothes I’d worn the day before, I was loaded into a van with other inmates, both men and women. I had no idea where I was going as the big garage door heaved open, and I didn’t dare ask anyone as we headed out through the streets of Madison.

As I watched through the window, I saw people going about their business, walking into stores, banks or office buildings. They had no idea how lucky they were to be free, to walk and drive wherever they wanted! How I longed to be a normal person again, just like them. I couldn’t believe my own circumstances, shackled in a van hauling me off to prison like a criminal.

Soon we were in an area of Madison I didn’t recognize, and then we hopped on the highway. It was a cold, winter day and the ride seemed endless. We finally pulled into a garage at what I soon learned was the Dodge Correctional Facility in  Waupun, Wisconsin.

The guards herded us like cattle into an open area where we waited for hours to be booked as offenders. After filling out paperwork I was told I was an intake prisoner, a transition program between sentencing and hard-core prison. A guard led me into a shower room and I was ordered to wash and Kwell. I learned Kwell was a toxic smelling shampoo that kills lice and germs. I was so afraid, naked in the open shower. I pushed a button to turn on the water, but there was no temperature control and poor water pressure. I cleaned myself as quickly as possible in the cool stream and dried off with a small white towel that I hoped was bleached. I had no hair conditioner after the acrid shampoo and no facial or body lotion. It was my first realization that the little luxuries in life were over. The toiletries I took for granted at home were banished in an instant. I dressed in green elastic waist pants, a factory type shirt that buttoned down the front and white Keds. Men and women wore the same clothes.

After the shower they took my photo. I was taken down a long hallway to a small room with a wooden bunk bed, two chairs, a small wooden desk and that ubiquitous open toilet. Another lady was already in the room and immediately complained to the guard about her medical condition. I could tell she was chemically addicted. She was totally irrational spouting wild stories and excuses trying to get her way. This woman terrified me. I was so relieved when staff finally moved her to another room.

Now I was alone in the cell. I heard talking and keys clanging as a sergeant occasionally walked the hallway. Otherwise I was totally alone with nothing to do. I couldn’t play with my kids, grab a magazine off my coffee table or munch a sweet apple from my kitchen. What in the hell was I doing in this place?

Soon, a flap on my door opened and a tray of food was shoved through. Prisoners on intake had to stay in the room for meals the first seventy-two hours of confinement. A lady came with a cart of books and I snatched a couple romance novels wanting to occupy my mind and escape into someone else’s problems. Oh, how I wanted to call home and talk with our girls. They needed to hear Mommy’s voice. All our lives were flipped upside down and we were spinning three hundred miles an hour.

That first day on intake, I filled out a form that was the only means of communicating with the staff. I asked the floor sergeant if they had any jobs because I was willing to work. I was so used to multi-tasking with many children in my care that the idle time freaked me out.

That night I donned the big sleep T-shirt they issued to me and was glad to sleep without the wacky woman in the bunk above me. The next day, the staff issued clean clothes, the exact same green ensemble as the day before. I tried to read the romance novel but was relieved when my door opened and a tall, solidly built sergeant entered.

“We have a swamper position if you want to work,” he said.

I had no idea what a swamper was and it certainly didn’t sound very glamorous. But it couldn’t be worse than staring at four walls in a tiny cell for hours on end, so I took the job. After completing my intake hours that Sunday, I went to find out what a swamper does. Another inmate, named Nancy, showed me the ropes. Nancy was about my age with long, dark hair and a medium build. She showed me an area where clean clothes and towels were stored for the other inmates.

“We receive the dirty clothes and clean some of them,” she explained. “The rest goes to a large laundry area.”

We scrubbed showers and mopped down the hallways. The job certainly lived up to its name but I was thankful it kept me out of that claustrophobic room from six in the morning until nine at night. Nancy was friendly and we delivered newspapers and books to the female inmates on our floor for them to read in their rooms. Swampers had the special luxury of going outside in a fenced-in area to shovel snow. We were the only inmates allowed outside. I never thought shoveling snow and cleaning bathrooms would be a privilege.

All inmates got one hour of gym time five out of seven nights a week. I was glad to run on the treadmill as I was used to jogging a few miles each day. I also lifted weights while many ladies played volleyball or walked around the gym. I needed the exercise to expel my overbearing tension.

We had a church with a prison minister on Mondays and a tiny library was open once or twice a week for fifty minutes. No rooms had TVs or radios. My family immediately sent me money for canteen hoping to make my incarceration as comfortable as possible. I was relieved to see toiletries on the canteen list.

My first order was for a comb, toothbrush, toothpaste, bar of soap, body lotion, deodorant, shampoo, hair conditioner and dental floss. I also purchased a pen, paper, envelopes and stamps. The sergeant commented that I didn’t buy junk food like the other women. I wanted to take care of myself as best I could.

For meals, we walked through a cafeteria line and received plates and bowls of portioned food. You couldn’t ask for seconds, and any leftovers were discarded. We ate in a small dining hall at round silver metal tables with four seats attached. We had fifteen minutes to eat.

The food was blah with lots of processed meat, carbohydrates like white bread, noodles and rice with very little seasoning. The cold breakfast cereal was my main nutrient and substance.

Some inmates were cordial while others stuffed food into their mouths. It was probably better food than they could scrounge up outside prison. I longed for a decent home-cooked meal. But I had so much on my mind, my appetite was nil.

I filled out visiting forms for Dave, our girls, my parents, siblings and their wives and other close friends. I sent these forms to them which included a questionnaire they had to answer. They sent the forms back to Dodge for processing.

During my three weeks at Dodge, I met with a social worker. She told me I was headed to Taycheedah Correctional Institute, the women’s maximum security prison in Fond du Lac. Indirectly, she told me I couldn’t trust many people in the big house.

“They may try to get you to buy things for them with your money.”

I was so naïve. After all, I was used to helping others. As I was about to face such a cruel world inside prison walls, I was frightened for my safety.

My third week at Dodge, I was finally allowed to make a fifteen minute telephone call. I scheduled the call for 11:45 in the morning on Thursday, knowing my girls would be eating lunch before Carrie left for kindergarten.

The floor sergeant told me how to work the phone near his work area. The dialing instructions were lengthy because all prisoners had to call collect. I punched in the numbers and waited with my heart pounding in my chest. I heard two rings.

“Hello.” I melted at the sound of Dad’s wonderful voice.

“Hi, Daddy, it’s me!” I heard him gulp, then we both had tears.

“It’s so good to hear your voice, honey.” We didn’t speak long because Dad knew I needed time with each daughter.

“Hi, Mommy!” Carrie squeaked. “When are you coming home?”

It was a question that broke my heart. I told her I wanted to be with her so much and prayed I would have her in my arms soon.  I talked to Allison for a few minutes and she told me about her toy dog and wondered why I was not with her. Jenny babbled into the phone and more tears streamed down my face. I spoke a few words to Mom and Dad and the fifteen minutes were quickly spent. I had to remind myself to be thankful for this connection, however brief.

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Audrey’s daughters, visiting her for Christmas in 2003 at Wisconsin’s Taycheedah Correctional Institute.

That same week, I received notice that my appellate attorney, Dean Strang, was going to visit me that Saturday, March 8, 1997. Steve Hurley worked with Dean and considered him an excellent lawyer; he recommended I use him to file an appeal. I was eager to start the gears cranking to get me out of this horrible place. The sergeant commented that professional visits were usually Monday through Friday.

Saturday came and I was called to the visiting room. They had confiscated my contact lenses during my processing, as such luxuries were banned in prison. Unfortunately, my state-issued glasses had not arrived, so my vision was extremely blurry.

I entered a huge visiting room and two sergeants checked me in.

“I have not met my new attorney yet,” I told them. “And I can’t see well without my glasses. Can you direct me to him?”

They pointed to a table far across the room. As I neared the area my eyes began to focus and my heart leapt.  There at the table was Dave! I was so surprised and happy to see him that I jumped into his arms and held on tight. His bear hug felt heavenly.

“I talked to Dean and he told me he had to reschedule your meeting for Monday,” Dave told me. “So I took his place.”

My dear husband had driven five hours to see me, knowing I would be in deep despair. The sergeant who checked me in now called me back to the desk.

“Who is that visiting you?” he asked.  “I thought you were meeting your attorney.”

I froze, hoping he wouldn’t turn Dave away. I explained the situation and he chuckled and blessedly sent me back to visit with my husband. I still treasure those three hours of sanity, bonding, family updates and sheer joy with Dave.

I was thrilled on Monday when I finally met with Dean Strang. A guard led me to a small, private conference room where he was already waiting. He was about an inch taller than my five-nine and looked quite dapper and intelligent with his jet black hair, small round glasses, designer suit and tie.

I had huge hopes for an appeal, and was anxious for him to explain the process. As Dean laid out some folders on the table, he told me he was reading through the trial transcripts and other pertinent records and materials.

“I am noting all significant information to determine which appeal factors are strongest to address,” he said. “Then I will meet with Steve Hurley and begin composing the issues.”

That seemed like a long process, but I was relieved when Dean said he had already filed the necessary papers so the appeal would take place.

“We have ninety days to compose and file the brief.”

My stomach turned. Ninety days? That meant at least three more months in prison. Dean could only tell me the details of this process and I trusted his knowledge and abilities. He departed after a couple hours and left me clinging to new threads of hope.

The day before the state of Wisconsin hauled me to Taycheedah, I received a soft case with my new glasses. Excitedly, I pulled them out and put them on. They were big, round, dark red frames that jutted beyond my face, making me look like a clown. But I was so happy to finally see with normal vision, I didn’t even care how they made me look. I knew I needed to have a clear focus before I entered maximum security prison.

 

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Audrey Edmunds can be reached at audreyedmunds@gmail.com

Jill Wellington can be reached at jillwellington@charter.net

It Happened to Audrey: It could Happen to You (A Terrifying Journey from Loving Mom to Accused Baby Killer) is available for purchase at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo.

About the Authors: Jill Wellington’s journalism career spans 36 years, including 14 as an Emmy-nominated television news reporter in Michigan. She’s also reported for radio, has written a weekly newspaper column, and is the author of three books, including the mystery novel Fireworks and The Man Who Sees Dead People, a profile of a real-life medium in England.

Audrey’s ex-husband Dave and Jill’s husband Mark were best friends in college. Audrey and Jill met in 1986 when the two couples started dating.

Audrey and Jill collaborated on this book because they realized the need to accurately tell Audrey’s story from her point of view, as opposed to simply letting news reports dictate the narrative to the public. They began writing the book while Audrey was still in prison, sending notes and information to each other in a big manila envelope, back and forth via snail mail.  

audrey at work

Today, Audrey lives in a small Wisconsin town, working at a cheese and wine shop. She’s reconnected with her three now-grown daughters and advocates regularly for other victims of wrongful convictions. Slowly but surely, she’s putting her life back together after losing close to 11 years of her freedom.

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The Reporters Inc. aims to complete production of The Innocent Convicts in late 2016. Your support of the project can be made through a fully tax deductible donation.

Discussion

4 people commented on "An 11-Year Nightmare"
Feel free to join the conversation and leave a comment as well.

  • Kathy Hyatt says:

    I am so thrilled for Audrey that her story is going to be seen on pbs! She is an extraordinary lady that i am thankful to call my friend! I have also neen down the sbs road.but was found not guilty. I am also in a documentary called The Syndrome. So thankful the truth is being heard!

  • Suzanne Knudsen says:

    I am just sickened that we live with a system that wrongly convicts innocent people. It is like so many people want to find guilt instead of truth. Like people want to punish others without wanting to hear the truth. My heart just aches hearing this story. I hope Audrey can live a life of peace and joy with her children after such wrong doing by so many people.

  • Patti dupont says:

    This is an amazing lot of information! Totally fascinating and very frightening! How many others,are out there???! !!

  • Michelle says:

    Audrey, I am deeply saddened for what happened to you. The part that hurt me the most was the judge who shamed you. I have a loved one who is wrongfully convicted and this too happened to him. My fear is when he comes up for parole. I know in my heart that he will never get out of prison ‘until’ he admits guilt. Your quote, about how does an innocent person show remorse really punched me in the gut. That’s just it, someone who is 100% factually innocent will not show remorse because they are innocent. Thank you for sharing your story and nightmare. God Bless you Audrey for everything they did to you.

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