A Fergus Falls man originally charged with abusing a child now faces a murder charge after the boy's death, with the criminal complaint noting a history of abuse and attempts to mislead investigators.
Reggie Bethel, 56, was arrested for assault in the first degree, malicious punishment of a child and felony child endangerment on the morning of Thursday, July 29. On Saturday, Aug. 7, the injured child, Mason Weston, died.
Prior to Bethel's arrest, the Fergus Falls Police Department and Ringdahl Ambulance responded to a medical emergency in the 1100 block of Mill Street. As stated in the case's official court documents, Bethel told police that Mason Weston, an 11-year-old autistic boy, was cleaning dog urine and feces on the floor when he slipped and fell. Bethel told police he tried to pick up the child, and they both fell twice more.
Police saw Mason unresponsive on the couch. He had a fresh cut on his chin, abrasions on his forehead, right eye and ear and bruising on his left eye and cheek. Police also observed blood on his shirt and another injury on the right side of his head.
Mason was taken to Lake Region Hospital in Fergus Falls, and the physician reported that Mason's injuries weren't accidental or consistent with Bethel's report. Due to the severity of his injuries, Mason was then transferred to Sanford Medical Center in Fargo.
According to the criminal complaint filed in Otter Tail County District Court, Mason's mother, Christina Herren, originally reported the same series of events as Bethel. However, she later told police she lied and that Bethel had repeatedly banged Mason's head on the floor and wall. Herren also said this was common and a form of discipline.
She stated that Bethel told her to lie, but she'd heard Bethel bang Mason's head on the floor three times in a row. She also heard Bethel yelling and swearing at Mason during the banging before saying "you need to wake up" and "sorry."
Later, police spoke with Bethel at the Fergus Falls Police Department, where Bethel said Herren and Mason moved into his residence in November 2020 and that he takes care of Mason. He gave the same story as before until he was confronted by the police with information given by the physician and Herren.
After this confrontation, Bethel admitted he got angry and grabbed Mason's head, hitting it against the wall four or five times in different rooms throughout the house. He admitted to lying because he was scared. Bethel then apologized to Herren, saying he'd likely go to jail.
Bethel also admitted he was unable to control his anger, knew what he did was wrong at the time and also kicked Mason while he was still on the floor. Bethel also said Mason never attacked him in any way.
Police later received medical records that explained Mason suffered from a traumatic brain injury. He was intubated and later required surgery. Then, on Monday, Aug. 7, Mason died as a result of his injuries.
An autopsy conducted by University of North Dakota Forensic Pathology Medical Examiner Susan Roe on Wednesday, Aug. 9, concluded Mason died as a result of homicide.
The judge set bail at $500,000 with conditions. With the exception of exposing himself at work last year, Bethel has no criminal history. In an interview with WDAY-TV, neighbors of Bethel said it wasn't uncommon for him to throw his tools around his yard and yell. Neighbors also have filed numerous junk complaints with city.
If convicted, the Bethel could spend the next 40 years in prison.