On Jan. 30, 2003, 20-year-old Rosa Jimenez was watching 21-month-old Bryan Gutierrez, as she did a few times a week, at her Texas apartment when things went horribly wrong. Jimenez stepped away from Bryan and her own daughter so that she could make lunch as the little ones played and watched TV. The toddlers had been playfully ripping up paper towels, and somehow, Bryan choked on some of them. Jimenez frantically tried to clear his airway and couldn't; ultimately, one of the responding paramedics had to use forceps to remove an egg-sized mass of bloody paper towels from his throat. The boy did not survive. Jimenez, who said she loved Bryan as if he were her own son, was found guilty of his murder. But in an extensive look at the case for Texas Monthly, Michael Hall explains that there are quite a few—including five judges—who believe she was wrongly convicted.
While prosecutors argued there was no way a child so young could have stuffed five paper towels down his own throat, a civil lawyer ultimately found a renowned surgeon who said it was "absolutely possible" the incident had been an accidental choking. Three other pediatric specialists agreed. The civil lawyer argued Jimenez's lawyer failed her in various ways, including by using an ineffective expert witness, and an appellate judge ordered a new trial. But in a series of twists and turns, judges, state representatives, the president of Mexico, and others continued to back Jimenez—even the judge from her original trial—yet the woman described as "peaceful" and "loving" on the stand remains behind bars, suffering from a chronic kidney condition that could kill her. The full piece delves into much more, including a documentary filmmaker who has followed the case and highlighted the lack of physical evidence in a film about Jimenez. (Read more Longform stories.)