Judge orders Jennifer Del Prete released from jail early after shaken baby murder conviction

April 23, 2014 (CHICAGO)

Jennifer Del Prete, 43, has appealed her conviction because of new evidence, but instead of continuing to serve her sentence as that process plays out, she's expected to be out on bond.

For almost a decade, Tia Del Prete has waited for her mom to walk out of prison.

"Everyone that's fought for this and fought for her and believed in her, we'll really feel all their love at that moment I think," said Tia Del Prete.

Her mother, 43-year-old Jennifer Del Prete, has been behind bars since 2005 after a jury found her guilty of shaking a baby to death at a Romeoville day care center - a claim she's always denied.

"Her eyes were closed. Seemed like, it appeared like she was sleeping. I pick her up, and she seems limp," Del Prete said.

Isabella, just three-and-a-half months old at the time, died several months later in 2004. Del Prete, a Hickory Hills day care worker, was convicted of shaking the baby to death.

"I picked her up like this, and I said her name twice, like this, 'Isabella? Isabella?'" Del Prete said.

Del Prete maintained her innocence and nine years after Isabella's death, she went to prison. Her case caught the attention of Northwestern University's Medill Justice Project.

"The infant had internal head injuries, but there were no external signs of abuse. There were no grip marks, no bruising, no broken bones, no injured neck," Professor Alec Klein, Medill Justice Project, said.

Further investigation revealed a letter from a Romeoville police detective that was not introduced at trial or shared with Del Prete's attorney, Klein said.

"In this letter, the detective said that he was worried that because the doctor who did the autopsy had grave doubts about whether the child was a victim of shaken baby syndrome," Klein said.

On the basis of that letter, Del Prete's conviction is being appealed. Federal Judge Matthew Kennelly said ". . .more likely than not that no reasonable juror would have found her guilty of murder beyond a reasonable doubt."

The judge ruled Thursday Del Prete can be released on bond while her conviction is appealed.

"I was crying of happiness like I am now," Tia Del Prete said. "I can breathe again. Everything feels right."

Del Prete remains in prison, and it could be a week or so before she's released on bond. It was the Will County State's Attorney's office that prosecuted her case nine years ago. It happened under a previous administration, but Wednesday a spokesperson said the state's attorney "remains confident in the prosecution of this case."

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