What Really Happened to Natalie Beard

On October 16, 1995, the mother of seven-month-old Natalie Beard dropped her off with her Waunakee, Wisconsin babysitter, Audrey Edmunds, and headed to work. Natalie had been fussy that morning and had taken only half of her bottle, but she otherwise seemed fine.

 

An hour later, a panicked Edmunds called 911, saying Natalie was unresponsive. The baby was rushed to a hospital in nearby Madison, where she died that evening. An autopsy revealed that Natalie had suffered extensive brain damage, and a forensic pathologist attributed the death to Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS).

 

In March 1996, Edmunds, a married mother of three with no prior criminal record, was charged with first-degree reckless homicide. At her trial that fall, the prosecution presented several expert witnesses who testified to “a reasonable degree of medical certainty” that Natalie had been a victim of SBS. The experts all said that given Natalie’s injuries she would have had “an immediate and obvious response” afterwards and, therefore, the injuries could only have occurred during the time Natalie was in Audrey’s care.

 

Audrey took the stand and testified she had never shaken or abused Natalie in any way, and her defense argued that, based on Natalie’s medical records, her injuries could have been inflicted or occurred prior to Natalie’s arrival at Audrey’s home.

 

After just eight hours of deliberation, a jury convicted Audrey on November 26, 1996 and a judge sentenced her to 18 years in prison.

 

Audrey Edmunds

 

The conviction stunned Audrey’s family, friends and neighbors, who simply couldn’t believe she was guilty; they said Audrey had cared for dozens of children for decades without any prior incidents or parental concerns. The prosecution said Audrey’s supporters simply “didn’t know the real her” and that the stress of being pregnant with her third child, and an upcoming move to a new state, led a stressed-out Audrey to simply snap.

 

At the time of Audrey’s trial, and for years to come, very few doctors questioned that Natalie had been a victim of SBS and Audrey lost all of her post-conviction appeals.

 

But over the course of the next decade, some medical experts began to change their opinions about SBS–including the medical examiner who performed Natalie’s autopsy. As a result, in 2006 the Wisconsin Innocence Project (WIP) came to Audrey’s defense. The group claimed that “a large body of new scientific evidence has emerged that supports her claim of innocence.”

 

WIP presented experts who testified that symptoms they once thought were proof of SBS had been linked to dozens of other causes, including accidents, illness, infection, old injuries, and congenital defects. In January 2008, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals ruled that “a shift in mainstream medical opinion” had cast doubt on whether shaking caused the brain injury that led to Natalie’s death and threw out Audrey’s conviction.

 

After serving 11 years in prison, Audrey was released and the state declined to re-try her, claiming it did not wish to re-traumatize Natalie’s family.

 

Today, more than 16 years later, police and prosecutors who investigated Natalie’s death still insist she’s guilty. Audrey and her supporters maintain that she was wrongfully convicted, deserves a full pardon, and is entitled to all the benefits that other exonerees in Wisconsin have received.

 

In this documentary, currently in production, The Reporters Inc. investigates all angles of Natalie’s tragic death, uncovers previously unknown information, and interviews dozens of people connected with the case (including Audrey), as well as child abuse and medical experts who explain the conflicting scientific evidence surrounding SBS.

 

The goal is to tell the whole story, to hear from the people who have never spoken publicly before, to present the evidence that jurors and judges weren’t shown, and to finally reveal What Really Happened to Natalie Beard.

 

 

Natalie Beard

 

To provide information, or learn more about this project, email The Reporters Inc. at or call us at 612-333-3180.

 

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