Incident Date: October 2, 2008
Jurisdiction: Ninth Judicial Circuit
County: Orange County
Charge: First-Degree Murder, Aggravated Child Abuse, Aggravated Manslaughter of a Child
Conviction: Aggravated Manslaughter of a Child
Sentence: 20 Years in Prison
Year of Conviction: 2011
Release Date: September 4, 2020
Sentence Served: 9 Years
Real perpetrator found? No
Contributing Causes: Unreliable Medical Testimony, Insufficient Assistance of Counsel
Amanda Brumfield was convicted of aggravated manslaughter in the 2008 death of her best friend’s 1-year-old child, Olivia Garcia. She was incarcerated on a 20-year prison sentence for an accident that was never a crime. Brumfield was imprisoned for 9 years and freed on September 4, 2020, from Ocoee, Florida after a deal was reached with prosecutors ahead of an impending evidentiary hearing.
Heather Murphy, Olivia’s mother, and Brumfield had taken their children to get Chick-Fil-A and ice cream on October 3, 2008, hours before Olivia’s death. Murphy put Olivia in a portable playpen at Brumfield’s house and left her sleeping inside at around 11 p.m. Brumfield, who was also Olivia’s godmother, regularly cared for the child and had her stay at the home. At some point that evening, Olivia tried to climb out of her playpen when she fell from the rail of the playpen head first onto the floor. With no obvious signs of injury, in the time after this accident, Brumfield painted Olivia’s nails and gave her fruit snacks and a banana. They laid on the sofa watching television until around 2 a.m. when Brumfield picked up Olivia to move her into her playpen and noticed she was not responsive.
When she realized, Brumfield began CPR. Soon after, her husband arrived at the home and called 911 at Brumfield’s request. Police and paramedics arrived about 20 minutes later. Paramedics took Olivia to the hospital, where the toddler died at 2:48 a.m.
Doctors determined Olivia died of a skull fracture and brain bleed. However, prosecutors elevated this tragic accident to a crime when the medical examiner opined the injuries were not consistent with a playpen fall. As often happens in cases of an accidental death of a child, authorities immediately suspect abuse and typically attribute it to the last person to care for the child. In this incident, Brumfield was the last to care for Olivia.
Orange-Osceola Chief Medical Examiner Jan Garavaglia determined Olivia’s death to be a homicide based on the autopsy. Garavaglia had found a three-and-a-half inch fracture on Olivia’s skull, bleeding and swelling in her brain, hemorrhaging behind her eyes, and cuts on her tongue. Brumfield was arrested months later on multiple charges, including first-degree murder.
At trial, Garavaglia and another expert witness testified on behalf of the state that the skull fracture was “inconsistent with an accidental fall and could only be caused by a car accident or being slammed against a wall, proving Olivia was abused.”
In May 2011, Brumfield was acquitted by a jury of first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse charges but was found guilty of aggravated manslaughter of a child. In October of the same year, she was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Brumfield was convicted in 2011 and immediately sought to appeal her conviction. She was denied a new trial. All direct appeals concluded in late 2013 without additional comment from the court. In 2015, the Innocence Project of Florida (IPF), and the Center for Integrity in Forensic Sciences (CIFS) began to represent Brumfield as her counsel and filed a motion for post-conviction relief.
In this motion, IPF presented scientific and medical expert witness opinions that prove short-distance falls, like those from a playpen, can “cause serious injury and death” and have led the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission to warn about the potentially lethal danger of short-distance falls from playpens, shopping carts, child seats, and high chairs. IPF also presented evidence demonstrating that the State’s claim that Olivia was too young to climb out of her playpen was false, referring to a 2011 study examining injuries among 181,654 children younger than 2 associated with cribs, playpens, and bassinets.
Child abuse convictions stemming from diagnoses of Shaken Baby Syndrome or Abusive Head Trauma are the leading cause of wrongful convictions for women. Oftentimes the last person to care for the child is often criminally charged for what is an accidental death—babysitters, daycare workers, and even mothers are often convicted of these purported crimes through the use of misleading and false testimony. This was the case for Amanda Brumfield. Medical and scientific evidence showed overwhelming evidence of Brumfield’s innocence and demonstrated that this was a tragedy that had no criminal genesis.
In 2020, Brumfield was granted an evidentiary hearing that could have led to a new trial for Brumfield. Within days of the hearing planned for early September 2020, state prosecutors offered her a deal. The deal meant Brumfield could go home immediately rather than spend another 10 years in prison if she agreed to stop pressing her innocence in court. Even if her conviction were overturned at the hearing she could face up to an additional 20 years in prison if she were wrongfully convicted again at a new trial. Brumfield chose to take the deal that meant she could be freed immediately to begin rebuilding her life.
With the dedicated representation provided by IPF Staff Attorney Krista Dolan, IPF Executive Director Seth Miller, and CIFS Executive Director Katherine Judson, Amanda was released from prison on September 4, 2020, after 9 years of wrongful incarceration.
IPF continues to fight to vindicate Brumfield and has asked the state Board of Executive Clemency to pardon her based on new medical and scientific testimony from experts in this case that demonstrates that this child tragically died from an accidental fall.