Justice long overdue for Aisling Brady McCarthy
To paraphrase Ray Donovan — the former US labor secretary, not the morally bereft TV character — where does the former nanny Aisling Brady McCarthy go to get her reputation back?
Where does she go to get back the more than two years she spent in jail on murder charges that seemed so dubious from the beginning?
The Middlesex district attorney's office did the right and prudent thing Monday by dropping the charges against McCarthy, after the state's medical examiner's office reversed its earlier ruling and said the death of 1-year-old Rehma Sabir, a Cambridge toddler whom McCarthy looked after, was not a homicide.
But McCarthy should not have been charged with murder in the first place, and the more than two years she spent locked up in Framingham amounts to an unjustified, pretrial punishment.
There was a rush to judgment in this case from the get-go. Within hours of McCarthy's arrest, reporters were doing their jobs and poring over court records that painted a highly unflattering, and highly prejudicial, portrait of her as a young woman with a volatile temper.
She was accused of biting a roommate and harassing another nanny. A former boyfriend said she attacked him after they broke up and threw a beer bottle at a woman he was talking to in a pub. But even that former boyfriend said he didn't believe McCarthy would harm a child. That was the widespread view in the Irish immigrant community, even among those who knew her but didn't necessarily like her: whatever McCarthy's problems with adults, she wouldn't take it out on a child. She had been a nanny for more than 10 years. A crying child wouldn't faze her.
None of it added up.
But before there was any compelling evidence presented against McCarthy in a public court, she had been tried and convicted in the court of public opinion.
Thank God there are attorneys like Mindy Thompson and David Meier and firms like Todd & Weld, which let their lawyers take cases that don't generate money. Thompson and Meier defended McCarthy vigorously and averted a miscarriage of justice. As a former Middlesex assistant district attorney, Thompson knew that prosecutors were using an outdated approach when it came to murderous child abuse, especially when it came to shaken baby syndrome, or SBS.
"It is a prosecution based on a scientific hypothesis that has crumbled over the last decade," she and Meier wrote in a motion to exclude Dr. Alice Newton as an expert witness in the case. They said Newton diagnosed Rehma Sabir with shaken baby syndrome almost immediately after the child arrived at Boston Children's Hospital in January 2013.
"There is so much science exposing the SBS hypothesis as scientifically and medically unreliable," Thompson said.
Thompson says McCarthy shouldn't have been indicted, that 90 percent of the evidence prosecutors presented to the grand jury would be inadmissible at trial. Such a complicated case required at least a six-month investigation.
"This got five days," Thompson said.
There was an air of desperation among prosecutors as this dragged on. At one point, they said they had information that the Irish consulate in Boston would help McCarthy sneak back to her native Ireland if she was let out on bail. Irish officials were indignant at the unsubstantiated claim that they would help one of their citizens jump bail.
Now McCarthy is headed back to Ireland. She arrived here in 2002 and overstayed her visa, so she is subject to deportation. McCarthy and her family in County Cavan cried together as they spoke on the phone Monday, according to Thompson. "She wants to go back," Thompson told me. "She's afraid to stay here."
The question is, will she be allowed to leave with dignity? Or will a government that locked her up for more than two years on charges now ruled unfounded subject us to the spectacle of marching her to the Aer Lingus gate at Logan in handcuffs?
At this point, at the very least, she is owed some dignity.