Catch her on the right (wrong?) day, as I did, and Francine Ream will give you an earful about just how crappy life can be. She hasn't held a steady job since October, the temp agency she signed up with to help make ends meet isn't calling, and her computer died last week. Then there's the little matter of her husband serving life in prison, convicted of shaking the couple's infant son to death in 1997.
It's the last item that consumes Ream, naturally. But not for the obvious reasons. Far from being angry at him, she's deeply, utterly convinced that her husband, Alan Yurko, is innocent. Her full-time job is trying to get him out of prison. And in a textbook lesson about perseverance paying off once in awhile, Ream is inching closer to making it happen.
We last wrote about Ream and the Free Yurko Project six months ago ["Bad science," Jan. 23], which was nine months after Yurko's lawyers filed a petition for a new trial. Of course, every inmate in Florida has either filed a similar petition or is working on it at this moment. It's the particulars that make this case interesting. Yurko claims, among other things, that Orange-Osceola chief medical examiner Shashi Gore seriously botched the autopsy that helped put Yurko away for life.
Here's the twist: In its response to Yurko's request for a new trial, the state attorney's office admits that Gore screwed up, but says the mistakes don't warrant a retrial.
Gore's autopsy on baby Yurko revealed that the 10-week-old boy had blood in the retinas of his eyes and a blood-filled swelling in his brain. Those findings, along with evidence that the baby's ribs had been fractured, convinced Gore that the infant died of Shaken Baby Syndrome. As the baby's caregiver, Alan Yurko was naturally suspected of the crime.
At trial, however, Gore admitted that he never interviewed Yurko about the incident and never even spoke to Ream. He also said he wasn't sure if anyone in his office got the baby's medical records. In his autopsy report, Gore listed the baby as black, when in fact he was white. He also got the boy's head circumference wrong in the report.
In court Gore testified that he examined the boy's organs. But in the autopsy report he noted that the chest cavity was empty due to the fact that Ream had donated her son's organs shortly after his death.
Ream believes that sloppy science, combined with a lackluster defense, put her husband away. In retrospect, she's convinced that the baby died of complications arising from being vaccinated, another reason she's pressing for a retrial. Her website, www.freeyurko.bizland.com, is crammed with articles about "hot lot" vaccinations and reports of misdiagnosed Shaken Baby Syndrome.
In his response to Yurko's request for a new trial, assistant state attorney Chris Lerner writes that Gore's flubs had already been brought to light in the first trial. "The record refutes Defendant's allegations that Gore was not properly impeached as to most of these items," Lerner wrote.
Alan Yurko is drafting a response to the state's filing that he not be granted a new trial. Both documents are scheduled to be before a Ninth Circuit Court judge by the end of this month. Then it's in a judge's hands as to whether or not Yurko gets a new trial.
Meanwhile, Ream filed complaints with the Florida Department of Health against Gore and Dr. Ben Guedes, the pediatrician who examined baby Yurko when he was brought to the hospital. The Department of Health has opened medical malpractice investigations on both.
Despite her run of bad luck, Ream is sure this is the beginning of the end of Alan Yurko's prison sentence. "I already have a feeling the judge has made up his mind [and will grant a new trial]," she says. "I'm intuitive, and that's what my intuition is telling me."
And if her intuition is wrong?
"Then this will be an even bigger deal. We are going to get real public. We are not going away."
Only hours after this column went to bed (newspaper talk there) June 24, the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild signed an agreement with The Tribune Co. creating a new, four-year contract for editorial and advertising employees at the Baltimore Sun. Regular Slug readers, erudite and comely group that they are, know that Orlando Sentinel scabs sent to replace striking Sun workers were in imminent danger of being outed in this space had the union voted to go ahead and strike.
As it turned out, the Sentinel scabs (and those from other Tribune papers, share the shame) helped prove beyond a doubt that the Tribune was serious about breaking the union at any cost. And it just wasn't worth the risk for Sun workers, who capitulated faster than the French in World War II. Guild members did manage to get in a nip at the bosses' ankles by adding the following to the signed contract:
"The Guild-member employees of the Baltimore Sun accept this contract under bitter protest and condemn Tribune Co. for its demeaning and destructive conduct, for negotiating in bad faith, and for hiring scabs to replace loyal Sun workers."
No doubt they broke out the cigars and single-malt scotch at Tribune HQ in Chicago June 24. Congratulations on a fine job, Sentinel scabs. Your master is well pleased.