Murder by Cajun seasoning?

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Date: 2007-09-23

Murder by Cajun seasoning?

That's what Texas jury found in mother's life sentence

September 23, 2007

A mother of five is serving a life sentence in the death of a 4-year-old child she and her husband were adopting because a Texas jury believed she forced him to drink Zatarain's Cajun Seasoning and delayed getting the boy emergency medical attention.

Hannah Overton was convicted this month in Corpus Christi. Jury selection in the trial of her husband, Larry, is set to begin Oct. 1.

But those who know the Overtons best aren't buying the prosecution's story and, in fact, believe evidence was distorted and doctored by district attorney's office, police department, child protective services and the news media to railroad the homeschooling, Christian couple.

"For all the Christians out there, understand this, Hannah's simple faith was used against her as the prosecution incessantly sought to make her out to be a religious sociopath," charges the couple's Calvary Chapel pastor, Rod Carver.

Larry Overton is standing by his wife, too, and contributing to a website designed to support her appeal. So is her congregation and, according to Carver, other churches as well.

They say prosecutors ignored any other possibilities in the death of Andrew Burd, 4, than negligent homicide by the foster parents.

For instance, the prosecutors used videotape images of Andrew asleep in his bed, taken from a camera placed in the room, the parents say, for the safety of their children. The recordings show Andrew sleeping on a bed stripped of a mattress. The video was shown in the courtroom by the prosecution in an effort to establish a pattern of abuse by the parents.

But, as Carver explains, the Overtons' story about the events leading up to Andrew's death has been consistent and unwavering from the beginning.

"Andrew was upset the day before the incident and was sent to his bed for a time out," explains Carver, who describes himself as the Overtons' pastor and close friend. "He defecated and wiped his feces on the bed and walls because he was angry. His mattress was washed and laid atop the swing set to dry Hannah tried to get Andrew to sleep with his brother in his bed; Andrew was upset and refused. He was put on top of a sleeping bag for padding on top of the smooth wood of his bed. He was covered with a blanket after that. He threw his bag and blanket off and within 15 minutes was brought to sleep with the sleeping bag and blanket beside Hannah's bed for the night. How 15 minutes with a sleeping bag for padding on a smooth surface becomes weeks on a bare rough board is really the big news."

Carver paints a picture of an emotionally troubled Andrew who may have also brought physical illness to the Overton family from his previous foster home.

"Andrew was born to a mother who admitted to abusing methamphetamine, coke, marijuana, crank, acid and alcohol while pregnant with Andrew," he says. "Andrew had some speech and coordination issues. He also had five markers for diabetes which were undiagnosed. There were missing records from Andrew's file from CPS; he never had a well child evaluation. We have no record of blood work prior to his placement with the Overtons. Hannah's heart was to work through all these things and see Andrew have the best life he possibly could. It seems a sick child was given to Hannah and when he died, CPS hid their negligence by accusing the mother of murder. Anybody want to adopt a foster child through CPS?"

But what about the Zatarain's seasoning?

Doctors believe Andrew's death was caused by salt intoxication, which can trigger a very rapid demise. Prosecutors built a case around the idea that Mrs. Overton created a toxic brew of spices, put it in Andrew's sippy cup and forced him to drink it.

Mrs. Overton's story is quite different.

Andrew had an eating disorder of some kind that left him hungry all the time – even immediately after a meal. If he didn't get more food, he would become quite agitated. She was told by someone familiar with such symptoms to add something distasteful to the child's food once he had clearly had enough. First she tried lemon juice, but Andrew liked it. Next she tried Zatarain's Cajun Seasoning. But he liked that, too. She believes she may have administered in food and drink one-quarter of a teaspoon to Andrew prior to his attack.

The prosecution also focused on delays in getting Andrew emergency medical attention once symptoms began.

She says she treated the symptoms. When Andrew was cold, she wrapped him in blankets and put him in bed. Later, when he was still cold, she gave him a warm bath. He wheezed, she gave him breathing treatment. When he did not respond, she rushed him to the hospital within one hour and 49 minutes of becoming symptomatic.

Prosecutors claim it took her three hours and grilled her about not calling 911. But once Andrew got to the hospital, doctors did not immediately diagnose the problem. In fact, according to Carver, they shot sodium into his veins because they did not recognize the salt intoxication.

Because the prosecution did not seek the death penalty, the only other sentence Overton could receive in the conviction was life in prison.

"I loved Andrew, and I didn't mean to hurt him in any way," she said at her sentencing. "I just pray that, that somebody will give me justice."


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