Alexandria man cleared in death of 4-month-old daughterMurder charges were dismissed against a 34-year-old Alexandria man who was awaiting a new trial in the 2004 death of his 4-month-old daughter.
By: Al Edenloff, Alexandria Echo Press
Murder charges were dismissed against a 34-year-old Alexandria man who was awaiting a new trial in the 2004 death of his 4-month-old daughter.
The Douglas County Attorney’s Office filed a motion on Friday to dismiss the indictment that charged Michael Ray Hansen with murdering his daughter, Avry.
In a brief statement, Douglas County Attorney Chad Larson stated, “After careful consideration, the state no longer believes that it can prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Our deepest condolences remain with Avry’s family who has endured unimaginable grief.”
Hansen, who was found guilty in a jury trial in 2006 and sentenced to 14 and a half years in prison, was granted a new trial this past July.
The Innocence Project of Minnesota took on Hansen’s case. It enlisted the help of several physicians and medical examiners, who raised doubts that Avry’s death was caused by a skull fracture.
At the original trial, the jury heard that Avry died as a result of blunt force trauma to her head while she was in Hansen’s care.
Hansen’s attorney, Bridget Kearns Sabo, said that the defense planned to present convincing evidence that Avry likely died from sudden infant death syndrome.
Hansen was released from the Douglas County Jail on a bond posted last month, His trial was set to begin September 26.
Hansen, who now lives in Blaine, told Twin Cities media that he was looking forward to going back to work and resuming his life as a father of two daughters, ages 10 and 12.
“I woke up this morning, and the first thing I said to myself is, ‘I’m not going to trial. It’s over with,’” Hansen said in a Star Tribune story. He added that he knows he will never get back the six years he spent behind bars. “You shouldn’t have to be 34 years old and starting your life,” he said.
Hansen maintained his innocence throughout his trial. During his sentencing five years ago, he broke into tears as he told the judge, “I love my kids dearly and would never hurt them. I’m not guilty…I wish Amanda [Avry’s mother] would believe me. I love my kids. I’m not guilty…I will continue to fight this. I’m not taking a plea bargain…I’m upset…I’m not guilty and I hope you [the judge] make the right choice.”
In Friday’s motion filed with Judge Ann Carrott, Larson said the role of his office is not to win cases but to “pursue fairness and equity in a world often devoid of the same within the parameters of a legal system…that occasionally falls short of the mark.”
The motion goes on to state, “In order to convict a defendant of a felony crime, we must prove to 12 jurors that the defendant committed the crime ‘beyond a reasonable doubt.’ While this is a rigorous and demanding standard, it is always secondary to an initial determination to proceed with the prosecution of a criminal case.”
At the original trial, the jury didn’t hear evidence explaining how Hansen assaulted Avry because there was no physical evidence at the death scene to corroborate such an assault, Larson wrote in his motion. Instead, the jury “inferred that an assault occurred based upon the massive skull fracture that was discovered by the local coroner during the initial autopsy.”
Ramsey County Medical Examiner Dr. Michael McGee conducted a second autopsy but the post-mortem was forensically compromised, Larson said, because Avry had already been embalmed following the initial autopsy.
At the post-conviction hearing, defense experts testified that Avry could have sustained the skull fracture six days before her death without anyone noticing. They testified that there was evidence of a healing injury.
“From that,” Larson said, “they concluded that she could not have perished from an injury inflicted while in her father’s care on the date in question. They surmised that Avry has sustained the massive skull fracture six days prior when her car seat fell off a Walmart shopping cart. They additionally testified that Avry did not die as a result of her skull fractures.”
Although Larson said his office declined to accept the defense’s position on those issues, the alternate explanations of the cause of Avry’s death “within the context of a very circumstantial and forensically comprised case deprives the state of the ability to prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.”