DA to declare Texas woman innocent in salt-poisoning case

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — A Texas prosecutor says he intends to declare a mother innocent in the death of a 4-year-old child, a decade after the woman was convicted of murder in the case.

Nueces County District Attorney Mark Gonzalez say he plans to dismiss Hannah Overton's case and to include language that declares her innocent in the death of the child she and her husband were adopting.

Overton's 2007 capital murder conviction gained international attention because it was widely believed she was wrongfully convicted. A documentary about Overton, Until Proven Innocent, is making rounds at film festivals and was picked up by Investigation Discovery last year.

Andrew Burd died in 2006 from high levels of sodium in his body. Prosecutors sought to prove Overton force-fed Andrew a mixture of spicy seasoning and water. Defense lawyers argued Andrew's death was accidental, the result of a rare medical condition that caused him to have high levels of sodium.

A Nueces County jury convicted Overton. She was automatically sentenced to life in prison without parole.

After seven years in prison, the state's highest criminal court overturned her conviction in 2014, saying her trial lawyers were ineffective, and sent her case back to Nueces County. In 2015, then-District Attorney Mark Skurka dropped the case against her but refused to declare her innocent, which prohibited her from accessing state compensation funds for wrongly convicted people.

Gonzalez's action will entitle Overton to state funds and protect her from being retried on the charge. Gonzalez said he plans to make the announcement during the Corpus Christi Bar Association's Law Day Luncheon on Wednesday.

"My primary concern, in any case, is doing the right thing, no matter the optics, the political pressure, or any external considerations," Gonzalez said in a written statement. "I reviewed the case against Mrs. Overton and concluded that she was actually innocent of the charges and did not receive a fair trial. For that fact alone, the dismissal is appropriate."

After Overton's conviction, her husband, Larry Overton, pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide in exchange for a type of probation that allowed him to avoid a conviction and prison. He has said he took the deal to avoid the risk of being imprisoned and leaving their five children without a parent.

The Overtons now live in east Texas, where they house released prisoners to help them transition to society as part of their prison ministry.

Follow Krista M. Torralva on Twitter: @CallerKMT