Waneta Hoyt Trial: 1995
Searching For The Truth, The Trial, Suggestions For Further Reading
Defendant: Waneta Hoyt
Crime Charged: Murder
Chief Defense Lawyers: Robert Miller and Raymond J. Urbanski
Chief Prosecutors: Robert J. Simpson and Margaret Drake
Judge: Vincent Sgueglia
Place: Owego, New York
Dates of Trial: March 30—April 21, 1995
Verdict: Guilty on 5 counts of murder
Sentence: 75 years imprisonment (she died of cancer after serving 3)
SIGNIFICANCE: The Waneta Hoyt case challenged a long-standing medical theory about Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and raised questions about other parents who used the disease as a cover for murdering their own children.
Ayoung child, typically between two and six months old, dies without warning during the night. The baby does not cry out in pain or torment. If an autopsy is performed, the doctor finds no clinical reason for the death. The likely conclusion: the child died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Reports of unexplained "crib deaths" date back hundreds of years, but the term "Sudden Infant Death Syndrome" was not widely used—or systematically studied—until the 1960s.
Waneta Hoyt and her husband Tim seemed particularly hard hit by SIDS. The couple lived in the rural town of Newark Valley, New York. As far back as 1965, Mrs. Hoyt had stood by helplessly as each of her five small children died of SIDS. (A sixth, adopted child, survived infancy.) The youngest was just three months old at the time of death; the oldest just under three years.
The Hoyts' tragedy caught the attention of Dr. Alfred Steinschneider, a local pediatrician studying SIDS. In a famous 1972 article, Steinschneider chronicled the deaths of the last two Hoyt children and introduced the notion that SIDS resulted from a hereditary form of apnea, a condition that cuts off a person's breathing during sleep. Steinschneider's theory and strategies for combating the problem gradually became accepted in pediatric medicine. However, years later, the details of the Hoyt infant deaths began arousing legal suspicions.
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