Convictions in baby's death tossed; couple freed from prison

Ashley Debelbot poses for a photo in Columbus, Ga., on April 22, 2021. More than a decade after she and her husband were sentenced to life in prison in their newborn daughter's death, they're free and struggling to start over. The Georgia Supreme Court overturned their convictions, citing an error by the prosecutor at trial, and the new district attorney declined to retry them. (AP Photo/Kate Brumback)
Ashley Debelbot poses for a photo in Columbus, Ga., on April 22, 2021. More than a decade after she and her husband were sentenced to life in prison in their newborn daughter's death, they're free and struggling to start over. The Georgia Supreme Court overturned their convictions, citing an error by the prosecutor at trial, and the new district attorney declined to retry them. (AP Photo/Kate Brumback) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

COLUMBUS, Ga. – Ashley and Albert Debelbot were sitting in the same courtroom where, more than a decade earlier, they were convicted of murdering their newborn daughter. The district attorney walked over and apologized.

That's when it sunk in for Ashley, 37, that they were free of the charges that lingered even after the Georgia Supreme Court overturned their convictions last year: “To have the DA walk over to me and reach out his hand and apologize, in that moment I was like, ‘This is happening.'”

The Debelbots brought baby McKenzy home two days after her birth in May 2008. Roughly 12 hours later, they've said, they awoke in the middle of the night, noticed a bump on her forehead and rushed back to the hospital. McKenzy died hours later. Her parents were arrested the next day.

The couple’s lawyers say the baby's injuries occurred naturally and her parents are victims of a rush to judgment that cost them 12 years of their lives. The original prosecutor remains convinced of their guilt.

The case was overturned not because of new evidence but because of statements the prosecutor made at trial and defense attorneys' failure to object. The new district attorney decided it wasn’t worth retrying.

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The Debelbots met in South Korea while in the Army. Ashley, who's from Mississippi, was a human resources sergeant. Albert, who’s from the Pacific island of Palau, was stationed there after serving in Iraq.

Ashley was already pregnant and planning to leave the military to be a full-time mom when they moved to Columbus in March 2008 for Albert’s posting at Fort Benning. They got a townhouse and prepared for the baby, nicknaming her Mac before she was even born.