Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Garrett Wilson

Court Changes Things

On August 6, 2002, Maryland's Court of Appeals overturned Garrett E. Wilson's 1999 conviction for the murder of his baby son Garrett Michael who died in 1987.

The Washington Post reported "Garrett Michael's death was initially attributed to sudden infant death syndrome, and Wilson collected more than $150,000 in life insurance. Police began investigating the child's death after Wilson's former wife came to them in 1994. Wilson was later charged in the 1981 death of his first child, Brandi Jean, in Prince George's County."

The Court of Appeals called to task both the Montgomery County judge and the actions of prosecutor Douglas M. Gansler. The appeals court ruled that lower court judge erred in permitting two experts in sudden infant death syndrome to introduce statistics on the odds of SIDS being the cause of death. State's Attorney Douglas M. Gansler's use of these statistics in his closing argument was also cited by the appeals court as improper.

Gansler defended his actions and vowed to retry Wilson.

Garrett Wilson's attorney, Barry Helfand, said. "I knew this case was going to come back, because it was filled with errors."

Medically, there is no agreement on the cause of SIDS, although there are factors which appear to increase the risk. One expert calculated that the likelihood of having two children die of SIDS in one family is 1 in 4 million. The other expert claimed that the chances that Garrett Michael died of SIDS were 1 in a 100 million. The Court of Appeals looked at these calculations as invalid because they assume without proof that there is no genetic link that causes SIDS.

"There is little agreement to the causes of SIDS," the judges wrote. "This is particularly true with regard to the role of genetics. Some, including the state, argue that it is generally accepted that there is no genetic defect or condition that can be tied to SIDS." But, the judges pointed out, a 2001 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggested that there may be a genetic link in a small number of SIDS cases.

"If you multiply his numbers . . . you get 1 in 10 million that the man sitting here is innocent," Gansler told jurors in the 1999 trial.

"The State's Attorney was well aware that the statistical evidence could not be used to calculate the probability of petitioner's innocence," the judges said in their opinion. "His argument was improper."

In May, 2004, Wilson was found quilty for the second time in the murder of his son Garrett Michael.

Wilson's trial in his daughter Brandi's murder case has been postponed several times.