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Unknown ingredient

"Unknown ingredient" Continued...

Issue: "The Road to Cana," Feb. 23, 2008

Carver contends that misinformation helped turn the public against the Overtons. Some of it took months to correct, like claims that Andrew's mosquito bites, which the Overtons' friends say he picked, were cigarette burns. KORO-TV, Univision's affiliate, reported that Carver urged congregants to force-feed children spices as punishment. He calls this ridiculous. "Hannah has faced bias everywhere," Carver says. "Is it criminal negligence to not immediately rush a sick child to the hospital? If so, thousands of parents are in danger."

What Carver considers myriad conflicts of interest also frustrate him. The judge threw out nearly 30 additional charges brought by Child Protective Services. The agency stood to benefit from an evil Overtons scenario that trivialized its own failures to provide a well-child evaluation and state-mandated Medicaid for Andrew. After the Overtons' arrest, it was revealed that the detective who investigated their case is married to a local CPS supervisor.

In the courtroom, Overton's attorneys claimed prosecutors suppressed evidence showing her innocence. Called a "Brady violation," this same breach helped bring down North Carolina district attorney Michael Nifong in the Duke lacrosse case. The defense claims that the prosecution didn't reveal the testimony of Edgar Cortes, a pediatrician who examined Andrew, and badgered him not to speak to the defense team. The defense team wasn't aware that Cortes had told prosecutors months before the trial that he believed Hannah had no intention of killing Andrew.

After the trial, a furious Cortes called the Overton attorneys and drafted an affidavit that read: "Hannah Overton had no intent to kill Andrew Burd." He was familiar with Andrew's medical history; a previous foster parent brought him to Cortes as well. Cortes said most salt intoxication deaths occur in the hospital. He pointed to the ineffectiveness of Zatarain's as a poison; McCormick, which makes Zatarain's, refuses to disclose its ingredients, calling them a "trade secret." He wondered: Why would a murderer use a spice with unknown contents? Why not just use salt?

Not persuaded, the judge refused to grant a retrial. The case has passed to the 13th Circuit Court of Appeals. One less-nefarious version of events is that a loving mother of five, hands full from adopting a child with behavioral problems, may have resorted to unwise punishment. It went awry, and she panicked. Overtons' supporters reject this, praising even Hannah's refusal to plea bargain as godly.

A citywide group of pastors led by John Otis, a local Presbyterian minister, is now trying to convince the state to intercede. Otis drafted a letter for hand-delivery to Gov. Rick Perry asking him to grant her clemency. At a pastors' meeting last month he hoped for a dozen signatories to the letter, but nearly doubled that with 21.

These meetings of pastors have now become regular. Carver and Otis, previously unacquainted, now sit with Baptist, black, and Hispanic colleagues. "This thing has exposed the fairly impotent Christian influence on power structures in our city," says Jack Carter, pastor at Church of the King. "I'm hoping this will galvanize us to take our place better than we have in the past."

Hannah's return may have split the city apart, but for the Christians in Corpus Christi-Latin for the "body of Christ"-it has become a different story.

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