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Friday, October 1, 1999 Published at 13:17 GMT 14:17 UK

World: Americas

Life and death in California

Basuta, with her lawyer Eugene Iredale

Manjit Kaur Basuta is the victim of "subliminal racism", according to her American lawyer, Eugene Iredale.

She has maintained throughout she is innocent of killing 13-month-old Oliver Smith.

Basuta, 44, was found guilty in June of killing Oliver.

[ image: Louise Woodward was freed after an intense media campaign]
Louise Woodward was freed after an intense media campaign
Her family - and supporters in San Diego's Sikh community - have been running a Free Manjit Basuta campaign but they have failed to capture the public imagination like the Louise Woodward case.

Cynics suggest her age, race and looks are the reason why she has been overlooked. But it may simply be a hangover from the Woodward case, which has led to "sympathy fatigue".

Her younger brother, Amarjit Singh, says: "We believe there was bias, especially in the (local) media coverage of the case, which could have caused prejudice."

A Sikh who moved from Ascot, Berkshire, to California 10 years ago, Basuta has failed to engender the media interest or support which was offered to Louise Woodward, who was convicted of killing an American baby in her care.

Emigrated Stateside

Basuta's family came to Britain from Kenya in 1969, when she was 14. They lived initially in West Bromwich in the West Midlands before moving to Ascot.

In 1989 she and her husband moved to San Diego with their three children, the youngest of whom was a year old, when he obtained a job as an executive with a communications firm.

They bought a $750,000 (£450,000) home in the Carmel Valley and she later set up a day-care centre there.

Prosecution lawyer Daniel Goldstein said the centre was the subject of seven "licence deficiency" complaints.

When the Basutas were questioned by immigration authorities, they claimed they had come to the US from India in 1993 to escape religious persecution.

Their deception was discovered and her husband and children, aged 11, 18 and 21, could face deportation as illegal immigrants.

[ image: Oliver:
Oliver: "perpetually happy boy"
But Basuta is likely to serve her sentence in a US jail - probably the California Institute for Women in Frontera, which houses the state's most feared female killers - unless the UK can persuade the authorities to deport her back to Britain.

In March 1998 Oliver was one of the six children in her care. He was described by his mother as a "perpetually happy boy with a contagious laugh and curly, black hair".

Massive head injuries

At some point he sustained a head injury and lost consciousness. Basuta tried to resuscitate him, shouting: "Breathe, Oliver!" as her Guatemalan assistant, Cristina Carrillo, telephoned for an ambulance.

Oliver suffered massive head injuries and died a few days later when a blood clot formed and his brain swelled. But Basuta has always denied harming him.

The prosecution said she lost her temper with him when he refused to move away from the television to have his nappy changed. They said she slammed him against the floor or another hard surface.

She says he must have sustained the head injury after falling or being pushed over by another child on the patio.

Basuta's lawyers say Miss Carrillo, who was the main prosecution witness, changed her story 12 times.

She initially agreed with Basuta that the child must have banged his head accidentally.

But she later changed her story, saying her employer had shaken him in a blind rage.

'Evidence kept from jury'

Miss Carrillo, herself an illegal immigrant, says she initially backed Basuta's version of events because her boss had told her if she did not she would report her to the immigration authorities.

[ image: Defence lawyers have pointed the finger of suspicion at Audrey Amaral]
Defence lawyers have pointed the finger of suspicion at Audrey Amaral
Basuta's lawyers said the jury was not allowed to hear important evidence which could have led them to acquit her.

The defence has suggested the child's mother, Audrey Amaral, may have inflicted a previous head injury.

But they were not allowed to cross-examine experts in court on how that might have led to Oliver's death.

They said Ms Amaral had been accused in the past of child abuse.

Allegation withdrawn

Shortly after he was born Oliver's father, who was in the middle of a messy divorce, accused his wife of abusing the boy.

The allegation was later withdrawn but Basuta's lawyers say this was only done so both parents could jointly sue her for civil damages.

The defence team was refused permission to cross-examine Ms Amaral on this issue.

The Basuta case is a test case for the Tyler-Jaeger Act, legislation which was introduced in California only three years ago.

Under that law anyone who inflicts "great bodily injury" on a child under eight is liable to a mandatory term of at least 25 years.

Judge William Kennedy could have imposed a 25-year term in June but he decided it would amount to "cruel and unnusual punishment" and postponed the case in the hope the two sides would hammer out a deal.

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