Woman Once Convicted in Infant's Death Keeps Freedom

By Wallace, Diana | Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), October 5, 2000 | Go to article overview

Woman Once Convicted in Infant's Death Keeps Freedom


Wallace, Diana, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)


When Donna Gist was handed a 50-year prison term for the killing of 5-month-old Matthew Hendrickson, the baby's father said Gist would face true judgment only when she stood before her God.

Now Scott Hendrickson of Winfield believes that may be the only justice ever served for his son's death.

Hendrickson and his wife, Cathleen, were devastated last May when an appellate court overturned Gist's conviction and she was later released from prison.

Now they say they're reeling from the Illinois Supreme Court's decision Wednesday not to consider the appeal of the conviction reversal.

"All we can put our faith in is that justice will be done by the Lord," Scott Hendrickson said Wednesday, "because justice on earth has failed us."

Gist, who learned of the decision on the news Wednesday, also spoke of God, saying her unyielding faith was what got her through a near-three-year incarceration for a murder she still maintains she didn't commit.

"I am a very faithful Christian, and I knew God would deliver me somehow at some time," she said. "I'm ecstatic, and I'm grateful to both the appeals court and the Supreme Court."

DuPage County State's Attorney Joseph Birkett said he will petition the Supreme Court to reconsider, though he acknowledged it is a long shot.

He said Gist could not be retried without the Supreme Court overturning the conviction reversal.

"Obviously, I know this is a real blow to the family," Birkett said. "Disappointment is an understatement. ... We felt strongly she was guilty."

A jury in late 1997 did find Gist guilty of killing Matthew Hendrickson. The baby, whose parents had hired Gist to baby-sit three nights a week, died on Jan. 3, 1996, after being in Gist's care for more than four hours.

It was later determined the infant died of shaken baby syndrome after being suffocated or strangled and violently shaken.

But last May, the conviction of Gist, whose original life sentence was reduced to 50 years, was reversed by a three-judge appellate panel.

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