A former Fort Benning soldier convicted with his wife of crushing their three-day-old infant’s skull in June 2008 is set to have a mid-July hearing on a new-trial motion, with his defense aided by new medical evidence and an attorney from the Wisconsin Innocence Project.
After a Columbus jury convicted Albert Omenged Debelbot and Ashley Deone Debelbot of murder in the June 1, 2008 death of daughter McKenzy, then-Superior Court Judge Doug Pullen sentenced them to life in prison on Oct. 29, 2009.
But defense attorneys maintain the Debelbots didn’t get a fair trial, and the infant’s death could have resulted from a problematic pregnancy and delivery.
Court records show the child was born at 4 p.m. May 29, 2008 in Martin Army Hospital, and discharged at 1 p.m. May 31, 2008. Sometime after midnight the next morning, the parents awoke in their Buena Vista Road apartment to find the infant had a lump on her head. They rushed her back to the hospital, where she was pronounced dead at 3:55 a.m.
A Georgia Bureau of Investigation medical examiner told police the child’s trauma was consistent with her having been slammed against a wall or stomped on the head. The Debelbots denied that.
Now Albert Debelbot’s defense team has statements from medical experts who upon reviewing the records believe the infant was born with brain and skull abnormalities that could have led to her death.
“The autopsy images show a grossly abnormal skull and brain. Trauma that occurred after McKenzy’s birth cannot explain these abnormalities,” wrote one physician, later adding: “The fracture on the right side of McKenzy’s skull had rounded edges and missing pieces which strongly suggest that the fracture was not acute. In other words, it is likely that it did not happen within hours of McKenzy’s death.”
Though some have questioned whether the newborn could have survived three days with an existing brain hemorrhage, “there is support in the medical literature for infants surviving days after birth with fractured skulls and intracranial bleeding,” the examiner wrote.
His statement was among the evidence included in Debelbot’s motion for a new trial, for which Muscogee Superior Court Judge Art Smith III has set a July 15-17 hearing.
Besides offering such testimony, the defense maintains that Judge Pullen showed bias in his courtroom comments and improperly charged the jury before its deliberations, and that the Debelbots’ defense counsel was ineffective.
Albert Debelbot now is represented not only by Moffett Flournoy, chief public defender for the six-county Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit that includes Columbus, but also Carrie Sperling, codirector of the Wisconsin Innocence Project, who has expertise in cases involving alleged head trauma to young children. Sperling is a professor with the University of Wisconsin Law School in Madison.
The prosecutor in the Debelbots’ case was Assistant District Attorney Sadhana Dailey, who said a medical examiner’s hours-long testimony during the 2009 trial showed the child’s head trauma must have resulted from a crushing blow that cracked the infant’s skull.
When arrested in 2008, Albert Debelbot was a 22-year-old specialist with the Ranger Training Brigade, according to contemporary Ledger-Enquirer reports. Today he’s 29, and is imprisoned in the Hays State Prison in Trion, Ga.
Ashley Debelbot today is 30, and is being held in the Emanuel Womens Facility in Swainsboro, according to the Georgia Department of Corrections. Attorneys said she also is likely to appeal her conviction.