A jury of seven men and five women took only two hours in Lauderdale County Circuit Court Wednesday afternoon to return not guilty verdicts in the Justin Archie Clearman manslaughter/felony child abuse case.
Clearman was on trial for the September 2010 death of 2-year-old Landon Tanner, who was the son of Clearman's girlfriend at the time, Chasity Tanner. The jury had to decide to convict or find Clearman not guilty of manslaughter and felony child abuse. The jury also had the option of finding Clearman guilty of one charge, while acquitting him of the other.
When the decisions were read to the court, Clearman could hardly contain his elation. Family members and friends sitting on the defense side of the court sat quietly, but their relief was evident. On the other side of the courtroom, family and friends of Chasity Tanner sat in stunned silence. Some of the members broke down and cried outside the courtroom.
Stewart Parrish, who was co-counsel with Robby Jones for Clearman, said afterward the prosecution's case was based on speculation and circumstantial evidence. Parrish also said the testimony Wednesday morning of former state medical examiner Dr. Steven Haynes, was also a critical aspect of the defense's argument.
"Haynes' testimony was very important, and it fit the facts of the case," Parrish said.
Jones said he believed the jury recognized this case was one that surrounded a tragic episode in which an accident led to the death of a child.
"Sometimes tragic things happen to the innocent," Jones said. "Nobody is to blame or to be held at fault."
Landon Tanner was rushed to a Meridian hospital on Sept. 14, 2010, when Chasity Tanner noticed her son was unresponsive. The child was airlifted to Jackson and, on Sept. 19, pronounced brain dead by physicians. On Sept. 23, Lauderdale County Sheriff's Department investigators attended the autopsy of the child. That is when forensic pathologists stated the child had suffered trauma to the head.
The incident occurred at Clearman's home, located on Causeyville Road. Chasity Tanner had moved in with Clearman, along with her son.
At the time of Clearman's arrest, Sheriff Billy Sollie said charges against him were based on the cause of death being ruled as blunt force trauma as outlined in the autopsy report. During testimony Wednesday morning, Haynes told jurors that there could be other reasons for the child's death.
Haynes was retained by Clearman to go over the autopsy reports, witness statements and other details of the case. In response to questioning by Parrish, Haynes explained that new studies, and some older ones done years ago, point to a possible medical condition of which most parents are unaware.
Secondary Impact Syndrome, or SIS, is, according to Haynes, a condition growing with acceptance in the medical community. He told the jurors that children that suffer a blow to the head – either by falling or of some other impact – could be in particular danger if another such fall or impact to the head were to occur later. Although not particularly serious, the first impact could actually set the child up for catastrophic and tragic events as the second blow could trigger irreparable conditions to the brain.
"My findings during my investigation showed the child had indeed suffered blows to the head as there were at least two bruises noted by the medical examiner at the time of the autopsy," Haynes said.
"In September, the reports I saw mentioned the child fell off a youth four-wheeler onto a hard surface. This was after the child fell in August," Haynes said. "So the second impact could have triggered the medical condition that led to his death."
Editor's note: This article originally ran Friday, June 7 with incorrect information. This is a reprint with the correct information.