A Texas mother of five who was sentenced to life in prison after being convicted in the 2006 salt poisoning death of her adopted son now has a new chance at freedom.
A Texas state appellate court granted Hannah Overton, 37, a new trial Wednesday. Overton, a devout Christian, was convicted in 2007 of killing her 4-year-old adopted son, Andrew Burd, and sentenced to life in prison. Her family and attorneys have been fighting for her release ever since.
Her husband, Larry Overton, told ABC News today, "It's starting to sink in. We are very excited, but just waiting to see what happens."
He said the right decision was made and that he hopes prosecutors act quickly. He said their five children, who have been without their mother for seven years, were “ecstatic.”
"The kids are thrilled," Larry Overton said. "[We] can't wait for her to come home."
Overton had appealed the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, arguing ineffective counsel and prosecutorial misconduct. The 7-2 ruling in favor of Overton granted her relief on her claims of ineffective counsel.
Three of the judges also issued a concurring opinion saying the proceedings in the case were “problematic from the beginning,” and cited issues involving the prosecutor, Sandra Eastwood, as well as Overton’s trial attorneys, who failed to call a salt poisoning expert to the stand.
Overton’s appellate attorney, Cynthia Hujar-Orr, told ABC News, “We are pleased with the strong and thoughtful majority and concurring opinions of the high criminal court and are asking for the immediate return of Hannah to her family while the Corpus Christi Prosecutors' office considers its next steps. We recognize this was not the current elected prosecutor's case and so we are hopeful for a good relationship and favorable action by his office.”
Nueces County District Attorney Mark Skurka can decide whether to retry Overton on the original capital murder charge or on lesser charges, offer her a plea deal or dismiss the case entirely. When reached by ABC News today, Skurka’s office said he had no comment.
Overton's attorneys say the DA has not answered their requests for bail. Today, they asked the court for a bench warrant and bail hoping to reunite Overton with her family while she awaits the DA's decision.
"We're hopeful that the DA now who wasn't the DA then... will be favorable in helping expedite the whole process to allow Hannah to come home without delay," Larry Overton said.
At Overton’s original trial in 2007, the prosecution portrayed her as a mother who had lost control. Frustrated with a naughty child, prosecutors said, she tried to punish him with seasoning mixed in water.
The defense presented the jury with a medical mystery. They speculated Andrew might have had pica, an eating disorder characterized by an obsessive appetite and that Andrew accidentally poisoned himself by consuming a fatal amount of sodium. Witnesses outside the home said they had seen Andrew's bizarre habits, too. The day Andrew died Hannah said she found him in the kitchen pantry but could not determine what he had consumed, if anything.
To find Hannah guilty, jurors had to believe either of two scenarios: that Hannah force-fed Andrew Burd salt knowing it would kill him or that she neglected to get medical help fast enough knowing that it would kill him. They convicted her based on the latter argument, that she did not seek help quickly enough.
ABC News’ “20/20” interviewed Overton in prison in 2008. The report also included an exclusive interview with the lead prosecutor, Sandra Eastwood, whom Overton and her attorneys have accused of acting unethically.
Eastwood was terminated for reasons unrelated to this case years after the trial concluded. At a hearing for this case, Eastwood admitted that, at the time of the trial, she was an alcoholic and also taking prescription diet pills, which affected her memory.
Overton’s husband, Larry, has been a single father of five children while his wife has been incarcerated. Once a month, he packs them into the family van and travels 300 miles to the Texas prison where she is being held.
Hannah Overton told “20/20” in 2008 that she did not regret trying to adopt Andrew.
"I wouldn't take that away," she said at the time. "He had brothers and sisters and a mommy and daddy, what he called his forever family, because we had to go through a lot of pain since then. It's not fair to him. Or to us."