Justice For Young Couple Sentenced to Life In Prison Because of Lack of Baby Formula

Justice For Young Couple Sentenced to Life In Prison Because of Lack of Baby Formula

96 have signed. Let’s get to 100!

Why this petition matters

Started by Darren Williams


This petition will be used to advocate for post-conviction relief for a young couple from Louisiana who were sentenced to life without the possibility of parole following the death of their premature infant in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Their young son suffered from a rare genetic disorder and his parents did not have access to proper baby formula.

Tiffany Woods (25) and Emmanuel Scott (18) were a poor black couple living in New Orleans with four small children when Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005. Their youngest, little Emmanuel, was two months old. The hospital had discharged the premature infant about three weeks before Katrina struck, after 41 days in intensive care. He weighed just three pounds and was dehydrated when he was born, requiring resuscitation. He tested positive for a MCAD deficiency, which is a genetic disorder that prevents the body from breaking down certain fats and converting them to energy. Babies with this condition require very frequent feedings and without care the disorder causes malnutrition, dangerously low blood sugar, and sudden infant death syndrome.

Although Emmanuel’s MCAD screen came back positive, the blood testing isn’t foolproof, so babies with positive results require follow-up testing at a biomedical genetic lab. In the meantime, Tulane Medical Center fed Emmanuel special baby formula on a round-the-clock schedule, according to medical records, trying to help him grow bigger and healthier.

When the hospital released the infant he weighed just 5 pounds. Before release staff taught Woods what to do for her premature infant and provided her with formula vouchers. But his discharge papers said nothing about very frequent feeding, and Woods says hospital staff never mentioned that.

Days later, Woods took the baby to a pediatrician for a follow-up appointment and vaccines. His visit to the Tulane genetics lab was scheduled for Aug. 29 — the day after New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin issued an evacuation order as Katrina menaced the city. The family never made it back to Tulane.

Woods and her kids were crammed into a sports arena in Shreveport before moving into a motel and, eventually, a rented house. Little Emmanuel was extremely sleepy and had trouble feeding, according to hospital records and his young parents, and when they ran out of the formula vouchers they switched to organic cow’s milk hoping he may tolerate it better. Within weeks he died of malnutrition.

On the morning of Nov. 27, the parents found Emmanuel unresponsive in his crib and called 911. Police and a social worker were sent to the home and noted that it was tidy. There was home-cooked food, cartons of organic milk, and a few large cans of Natural Ice beer in their refrigerator, along with partially full baby bottles in the crib. They grew suspicious however, because Woods didn't react the way they thought a grieving mother should, seeming calm and detached rather than crying and hysterical.

It was determined the child had died of malnutrition and in September 2006, the Caddo Parish district attorney’s office charged Emmanuel’s parents with second-degree murder, which in Louisiana requires no proof that harm was intended and caries a sentence of life in prison without the hope of parole. Scott and Woods were defended by court-appointed lawyers, who advised them to opt for a bench trial.

The forensic pathologist who ruled the child died of malnutrition testified that the baby’s liver indicated he did not have a metabolic disorder. But Dr. Irene Chang, a biochemical geneticist at Seattle Children’s Hospital who has published studies on the metabolic disorder, said in an interview that a pathologist wouldn’t be able to tell if a baby had died of MCAD deficiency by examining his liver. Genetic testing is the only surefire way and that testing was never completed.

The defense lawyers said Emmanuel may have had MCAD deficiency or some other disorder, but that neither parent understood how sick their child was. They also argued that if the hospital had such a hard time feeding Emmanuel, what chance did his parents have as impoverished evacuees far from home?

Judge Garrett found the couple guilty, stating that the parents had money for beer and cigarettes, so they should have bought formula. She said due to sentencing guidelines, the law required her to sentence both to life without parole.

When Woods was arrested her three remaining children bounced around between foster care and relatives. No one seemed to consider these children when Louisiana took their parents and left them in the balance. “What is the benefit to society of keeping these people in prison for life?” Woods' son Troy said. “My mama does not deserve to die in jail because of an accident.”

Louisiana has long had the highest homicide rate in the nation, but the law contains an unusually sweeping definition of second-degree murder that includes even some accidental deaths. Despite the wide variety of circumstances that can produce a second-degree conviction the sentence is always the same: mandatory life without parole. Judges have almost no discretion.

More than half of the people serving life in Louisiana were convicted of second-degree murder, including three-quarters of the 124 women serving life. Yet data suggests Louisiana may not be applying the punishment equally. Despite Black people making up one third of the population, 70% of people serving life without parole are black and 66% of those imprisoned in Louisiana are black.

Let us compare this tragic story to a white Ohio woman named Brooke Richardson who was found guilty of abuse of a corpse in connection with the death of her newborn daughter and sentenced to just seven days in jail and three years of basic supervision. Or the white daycare worker in Minnesota named Nataliia Karia who plead guilty to attempted murder after hanging a 16-month-old boy from a noose in her basement and received just 20 months in prison and 10 years of probation.

Undoubtedly, children with similar genetic disorders to Little Emmanuel have died as a result of the current baby formula shortage. Are parents going to be held to the same standard as Tiffany Woods and Emmanuel Scott? Will they be charged with murder because they can not get their hands on formula during a crisis? Further, considering the circumstances, do the sentences in these three cases constitute EQUAL JUSTICE in today’s America?

Locking both parents away in prison without the hope of parole and throwing their remaining dependent children into foster care is a miscarriage of justice. After more than 15 years in prison, signing this petition will help Tiffany Woods and Emmanuel Scott reunite with their family and achieve post-conviction relief!

If you are interested in making a donation towards private attorney and legal fees here for Tiffany Woods and Emmanuel Scott, click HERE.

96 have signed. Let’s get to 100!