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Audrey Glasbrenner Edmunds: Starting over

Audrey Glasbrenner Edmunds, who grew up in Hudson, now lives in Lakeville, Minn. A book about her trial and 11-year imprisonment entitled "It Happened to Audrey" by Jill Wellington has just been released. Wellington was a friend of Edmunds before her conviction. The two corresponded throughout her prison term and collaborated on the book.

Freed after 11 years in prison

The name Glasbrenner is a familiar one to many in Hudson.

The late John Glasbrenner was a teacher. The Glasbrenner children, Fred, Wayne, Gary and Audrey all attended school here. Audrey was the 1977 Pepper Fest queen.

But it is what happened to Audrey almost 20 years later that seems like something out of a movie and very far from her Hudson roots.

Audrey Glasbrenner Edmunds was tried and convicted of the reckless homicide of an infant in her care in 1997 in Dane County where she was living with her husband and three daughters. She was sentenced to 18 years in prison. She served 11 of those years before her sentence was overturned in 2008. Authorities did not retry her case.

Edmunds, who spoke to the Star-Observer from the front steps of the residence she rents in Lakeville, Minn., was enjoying a sunny fall day probably more than most. After what she has been through, she says she takes little for granted anymore.

A book detailing Edmunds story has just been released. "It Happened to Audrey: A Terrifying Journey From Loving Mom to Accused Baby Killer" by Jill Wellington describes how Edmunds' world changed on another fall day back in 1995.

Edmunds, then 35 and pregnant with her third child, was taking care of 6-month-old Natalie Beard. Her mother, who lived in Edmunds' neighborhood, dropped the baby off early in the morning, saying the child had been fussy and crying a lot.

With the baby still fussing, Edmunds put her in the master bedroom with a bottle propped in her mouth, hoping the quiet would calm the child while she got her girls off to school. Shortly thereafter Edmunds found the baby limp and unresponsive and she called for help, believing the child had choked.

Natalie Beard died but not of choking, according to doctors. The cause of death was "Shaken Baby Syndrome," whereby an infant is violently shaken resulting in traumatic brain injury, usually with no visible signs of harm.

In 1995 it was generally assumed that the last person with a child was the person responsible for the injuries. Edmunds was arrested, tried and convicted. Authorities did not consider any of the other adults in Natalie Beard's life nor anything in Edmunds' background that contradicted the prosecution's case.

Edmunds was sentenced to 18 years in prison in October 1997, just two days after the first birthday of her third daughter. Her other children were ages 3 and 5.

Edmunds served eight years of her sentence in Taycheedah, the state's maximum security prison for women before she was transferred to a minimum security facility to serve out the remainder of her sentence.

Edmunds said surviving her time in prison was an "awful experience."

"It is something I never got used to. I didn't take it a day at a time or an hour as a time -- it was a second at a time. Even with faith it was a very, very hard thing to endure."

Shocked by the verdict, Edmunds nonetheless believed that her conviction would be overturned and that she would be exonerated. She hired an attorney and filed an appeal in 1999 that was unsuccessful.

During this time, new theories about shaken baby syndrome were surfacing in the medical community. Even the medical expert, who testified against Edmunds in her first trial, reversed himself saying that he now he believed the injuries Natalie Beard suffered could have happened hours, even days, before the infant was dropped off with Edmunds.

In 2003 the Wisconsin Innocence Project, a group of lawyers and law students who work on behalf of people they believe have been wrongfully convicted, took an interest in her case and filed a second appeal.

While a judge hearing the case in 2007 acknowledged that the medical community no longer agreed on Shaken Baby Syndrome, he denied her request for a new trial. But that decision was overturned by the Wisconsin Appeals Court in 2008 and Edmunds was released from prison.

According to Edmunds, Natalie Beard's parents did not object to her release. "I just hope that someday they will know the truth about what happened to their daughter. What they said at the trial wasn't the truth. Even the doctor who testified has said he was wrong."

Rebuilding a life

Edmunds, now 51, lives in a rented home and works at convenience store. Two of her daughters are in college and her youngest is in high school and lives with her father, who divorced Edmunds while she was in prison. She sees her children as often as she can. And she makes regular visits back to Hudson to visit her mother Jean and other family members.

Her father died in 2000.

"I was in prison when he passed away. He took what happened very hard. He always believed in the system. After teaching about our justice system for 25 years, it just exploded in his face. I think he just couldn't understand how this could happen."

Edmunds said it has been difficult getting back on her feet since her release. While authorities decided not to retry Edmunds, the criminal charges against her remain a part of her record. "It is always there and it doesn't matter what the circumstances were or how things turned out."

But she is optimistic about the future. She her goal is to be financially independent and rebuild her family. She is also committed to helping others in cases similar to hers who have been wrongfully convicted.

She recently attended a conference with 105 exonerated people like her who together had served more than 5,000 years in prison.

"There are so many people who have done much more time than I did and there are so many more still in prison. I want to help turn things around in cases like mine from being treated as guilty until proven innocent to the way it should be."

Wellington's book is available at retail bookstores and online. Edmunds is also scheduled to appear on Katie Couric's talk show Oct. 24.

Meg Heaton

Meg Heaton has been a reporter with the Hudson Star Observer since 1990. She has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and Native American Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

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