Albert Debelbot and his wife with attorneyts at their trial. Photo credit: Center for Integrity in Forensic Science

Exuding positive energy, optimism, and a sense of peaceful existence, one would never imagine upon meeting Albert Debelbot, that the young man had lost twelve years of his young life behind bars, convicted of one of the worst cases of miscarriage of justice in the United States.

Home, visiting for the first time since his incarceration, Debelbot enjoyed re-connecting with his family.

Speaking with Island Times, Debelbot was not bitter nor blamed anyone for what happened to him.  Debelbot attributed this to his faith in God and his upbringing here in Palau, which saw him through his ordeal.

Albert Debelbot and his wife, who both served in the U.S. military in 2008, were wrongfully convicted for the death of their daughter, who died three days after delivery due to what medical experts say was an “in utero stroke with consequent bleeding exacerbated by a rough delivery” or stroke while in the womb that caused bleeding in her head, made worse by the rough delivery.

Expecting their first child while stationed in Georgia, USA, Debelbot and his wife were looking forward to welcoming their baby girl.  Shortly after giving birth, the mother and daughter were sent home.  Immediately the baby began having unusual symptoms and was brought back to the hospital where she died a few hours after.

Immediately after the baby passed away, rather than grieving the loss of their baby, they were arrested and charged for the death of their child.

“It happened very quickly,” said Debelbot.  “We were at the hospital with the baby when she passed around 10 am.  They took me in for questioning, and at 1 pm that afternoon, I was put in jail and charged.  I was still trying to understand what happened to my daughter, and the next moment I was in jail,” recalled Debelbot of how quickly he was charged and jailed.  He never had the chance to mourn his daughter, he added.

Asked how he felt, Debelbot said, “I didn’t fear going to jail because I know that God knows that I am innocent.  I was apprehensive of the trial and the legal process, but I was not afraid of the outcome, be it walking free or going to jail.”

Asked why he was so at peace with this, Debelbot related how his faith in God held him through it all.

“I was not a religious person before.  But this started when I started my second tour in Iraq.  After a brief R&R here at home, I was deployed back to Iraq, and one day, I was on the rooftop trying to keep my head down to keep from getting shot, and I looked up into the sky and made a promise to God.  I said, if You get me out of here with my mind and my limbs intact, I will go where you lead me,” he said.

After that, he was sent back to be stationed in the United States. 

When the incident happened, he said he was asking God why. “Why was this happening to me?” he asked.  Then he said that’s when he remembered his promise and decided to go where God led him.

He added that being raised in Palau too prepared him for what would have been a very difficult situation.  “I think how we are raised here, being respectful, like respecting elders and women, being a Palauan, being authentic, having culture, these traits, even though you don’t think about it, it attracts people to you.”

Wisconsin Innocence Project took over the defense for Debelbot and his wife, seeking a new trial.  Medical experts were brought in to testify.  The judge refused to believe the experts and denied a new trial.  The case was taken to the Supreme Court of Georgia, where it reversed the decision, vacated the conviction, and ordered a new trial.  The state prosecutor declined prosecuting the case due to a lack of evidence.

As he continues on his journey and his faith, he said things have fallen in place for him, his defense, his job, and other positive developments in his life.  “I do what I can do today, and God takes care of tomorrow.”

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