By Kelly Cline
Reporter, Innocence Institute of Point Park University
innocence [at] pointpark [dot] edu
DeAnndra Day has admitted on numerous occasions that it was she, not her ex-husband, who murdered her 3-year-old daughter. But a federal appeals court has denied appeals from Michael Day, the man serving a life sentence for the killing, because a lower court ruled new forensic evidence was not enough and an appeals court said he filed a petition too late.
In the most recent denial, a two-page ruling of the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Michael Day’s claim of actual innocence based on his former wife’s repeated confessions was rejected.
The court said it did not identify a violation of Michael Day’s constitutional rights and that the appeal was untimely.
“Why are [the court systems] doing this to him?” wrote Day’s 80 year-old mother, Arlene Day, in a letter to the Innocence Institute of Point Park University. “He has been in [jail] for almost 16 years for a crime that he did not commit and the real person that did it is free to have more kids and live her life.”
DeAnndra Day screamed for help as she entered the bathroom to find her daughter, Tequyla Piece, face-down in the bathtub. Mrs. Day telephoned 911 on the night of August 10, 1994 to report that her 3-year old daughter was not breathing.
The paramedics arrived to find a naked Michael Day with a bed sheet wrapped around his waist, incorrectly performing CPR. The medics took over and Mr. Day’s naked body was exposed when his sheet was taken to wipe vomit from the girl’s face. He would eventually claim that he had genital herpes and had not been wearing underwear to speed up the healing process.
Pierce was pronounced dead on arrival at Braddock Memorial Hospital. The initial autopsy report, completed by forensic pathologist Dr. Shakir, claimed that Tequyla Pierce died as a result of severe brain edema due to meningitis with drowning as a contributory cause.
Other doctors disagreed. Dr. Shelia Buchko, emergency physician, suspected abuse, noticing injuries to Pierce’s vaginal and rectal areas. She reported the case to Allegheny County Children and Youth Services (CYS) where Dr. Mary Carrasco, a pediatrician of the Family Intervention Center at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, and Dr. Lucy Rorke, a forensic neuropathologist with Philadelphia Medical Examiner and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia were asked to provide their opinions on the cause of death.
The doctors claimed Pierce died due to compression to her chest during sexual assault. Autopsy photographs supposedly displayed vaginal and rectal tears.
Carrasco and Rorke were admitted as experts in court. Neither participated in the autopsy or was a certified forensic pathologist, but their opinions were influential in finding a verdict. Dr. Carrasco said that Pierce’s death could have been caused by sexual intercourse but the injuries were not necessarily caused by a penis. Dr. Rorke said she could not make a determination of sexual assault, despite indicating that was her opinion.
The defense never called upon an expert to argue against the opinion of sexual assault.
The 1st “Confession”
Deanndra Day took the stand and testified that her daughter received injuries prior to her death. While playing in the basement, Pierce fell twice, receiving a minor bump to the back of the head and a large knot on her forehead.
After leaving the witness stand, Mrs. Day became overridden with guilt and told her husband’s lawyer, Mr. Sokolsky, that she was responsible for the death. This confession was reported to Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Robert Dauer but withheld during the trial.
Sumner Parker, a court-appointed public defender, convinced Mrs. Day to protect herself against self-incrimination and invoke her Fifth Amendment rights. This left Mr. Day as the sole suspect.
Michael Day, having no prior felony record, was found guilty on November 21, 1995 of second-degree murder, rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and endangering the welfare of children and sentenced to spend the rest of his natural life behind bars.
Since the sentencing of her now ex-husband, Mrs. Day has continued to claim responsibility for the death of her daughter. In a letter written to Judge Dauer, Mrs. Day explained her hesitated confession.
“I DeAnndra Day is writing this confession statement in regards to the beating of Tequyla Pierce Day. I didn’t come forward because I was scared to go to jail. I am coming forth because I can’t [bear] the pain, heartache and most of all I need help.”
Mrs. Day further explained her actions during a recorded interview with Detectives Michael Cunningham and Terry Hediger of the Allegheny County police.
“The bruises came from me,” Mrs. Day said. “I was hittin’ her in her butt area and everything, I had her bent over my knee and I was spankin’, givin’ her a beatin’, how long I don’t know, I just blacked out.”
She questioned her actions in a letter written to Mr. Day.
“Why did I lose it like that?” Mrs. Day said in a letter dated December 22, 1995. “I never meant to hurt my baby girl. I don’t understand what went wrong with me.”
The confessions continued as Mrs. Day wrote to Dorrance T. Greppi of the Allegheny County Adult Probation Office. She described how she beat the child with the heel of a shoe and dunked her head under water twice.
Mrs. Day’s mother, Mercile Pierce, wrote to Mr. Day on May 23, 1997. In the letter, she describes an incident with her daughter.
“She yelled out in the street that all she was guilty of is killing her baby.”
On July 19, 2007 in a brief telephone interview, Mrs. Day again stated that her ex-husband had nothing to do with the childâ€™s death and also reaffirmed that she had written the letters and made the statements to police and other public figures concerning the murder.
The multiple confessions proved ineffective when in August of 1997, Mr. Day appealed to the Pennsylvania Superior Court and was denied a new trial on the basis that his wife’s confessions did not match the experts’ forensic descriptions of the account of death given by two doctors who are not forensic pathologists.
Unsatisfied, David Shrager, representing Mr. Day, retained Dr. Karl Williams, then a consulting forensic pathologist and currently the Allegheny County Medical Examiner, who voiced surprise to the lack of testimony from a forensic pathologist during trial.
“It is only Forensic Pathologists who have the prerequisite training and knowledge to evaluate the many unusual aspects of unnatural deaths.” Williams said. “The lack of expertise in this case leads to serious deficiencies in the analysis at the time of trial.”
An evidentiary hearing was held in May 2004 in which Williams openly disagreed with the experts’ opinions.
“I don’t believe it happened the way the Commonwealth is saying.” Williams said.
He argued there was no proof of a rectal tear in the autopsy report and photographs used as evidence during the trial. The experts’ testimonies stated a rectal tear was not only present but was significant enough to prove that the child had been anally penetrated by a blunt object such as the father’s penis.
Williams said the accounts of Mrs. Day’s confession matched more closely than the fabricated stories told by the prosecution.
“The unusual congruence between the described episode of trauma and the peculiar autopsy findings suggests this may be a legitimate explanation for one of the more troubling aspects of this case,” Williams said in a written review of the materials. “This [Mrs. Day's] scenario could explain exactly the distinctive pattern observed at the time of autopsy.”
Mr. Day was once again denied a new trial. Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Robert Gallo, who presided over the case following the death of Judge Dauer, said that the newly available evidence would not change the outcome of the trial.
Despite being repeatedly rejected, Mr. Day continued to deny his involvement in the death of the young girl.
“All I did was try to save my daughter’s life,” Day said in a letter to the Innocence Institute.
In one last attempt to prove his innocence, Mr. Day filed an appeal basing his claim of innocence on his ex-wife’s confessions to the murder of Tequyla Pierce. He was again denied the chance to be a free man, being told his paperwork was filed too late and that the new forensic evidence was not enough to overturn the ruling.
“I raised all the issues… constitutional and actual innocence,” Day said in a letter written to the Innocence Institute on February 28, 2010. “But [the appeals courts] refuse to hear an innocent man’s cry for help and justice.”