Alan Yurko’s Murder Conviction is Vacated!

By Hans Sherrer

Justice:Denied magazine, Issue 26, page 9

After a week-long evidentiary hearing, on August 27, 2004, Circuit Judge C. Alan Lawson vacated Alan Yurko’s 1998 first-degree murder conviction of shaking his ten-week old son to death in November 1997, for which he was sentenced to life in prison. (See: The Yurko Project: Triumph Over Tragedy, Justice:Denied, Issue 23, Winter 2004, p. 10) An array of experts assembled on behalf of Yurko painted a picture of medical negligence by his son’s doctors that compounded baby Alan’s poor health, and an autopsy report by Orange-Oscela Medical Examiner Sashi Gore so rife with errors that it was of no value in determining his cause of death.

Earlier in 2004, the Florida State Medical Examiners Commission reviewed Gore’s conduct in the Yurko case. The Commission determined his conduct was so deficient that it barred from performing autopsies until his June 2004 retirement.

Facing a re-trial with their “star” forensic witness’ professional reputation in shreds, Alan’s prosecutors offered him a deal within hours of Judge Lawson’s ruling: Plead no-contest to the manslaughter death of his son and be sentenced to time served - 6 years and 125 days. The alternative for Alan was to most likely spend several more years in prison while the prosecution appealed the judge’s ruling.

An important consideration for Alan, was that by pleading no-contest to manslaughter, he would be abandoning any opportunity to seek compensation for his 6-1/2 years of wrongful imprisonment. However the desire to get out of prison immediately and to be reunited with his wife Francine and his step-daughter won out. Alan accepted the deal and after pleading no-contest to manslaughter at an afternoon court session, he was sentenced to time served and released about 8 p.m. on August 27th. When he entered his plea, Alan denied ever physically harming his son, but he accepted parental responsibility for not having conducted research into the dangerous vaccines his ill-son’s doctor’s prescribed and administered to him.

Alan’s wife Francine, who steadfastly stood by him during his ordeal and was the person most responsible for amassing the new evidence of his innocence, had mixed emotions about the plea deal: “By him taking a plea, he gets to come home. But we’re still victims of the system. We’ve still spent seven years of our lives to prove his innocence and restore the name of our family. A plea … regardless of no contest, that’s not a victory to me. We know he’s innocent, and I guess when it comes down to it, that’s all that really matters.”

The irony of Alan’s plea deal, is that prior to his trial he was offered and turned down, a deal under which he would have served less than the time he was actually imprisoned. More than six years of wrongful imprisonment gave him a new perspective on the inner workings of the legal system. It is unlikely that Judge Lawson’s acceptance of Alan’s plea to something the judge knows he didn’t do increased his already shaken faith that the system’s interest is in protecting the innocent, and not to cater to the prosecution’s goal of obtaining a conviction at all costs.

Source: Dad freed from life sentence in son’s death, Anthony Colarossi and Pamela J. Johnson, Orlando Sentinel, August 28, 2004.