Thursday, 2 December 2010

SBS: Minnesota: Hokanson sentenced

HASTINGS, Minn. -- A Dakota County jury on Thursday convicted Tylar Hokanson of killing his 17-month-old stepson, in what one veteran prosecutor called one of the most horrific shaken baby case he'd ever encountered.
Hokanson was immediately sentenced to life in prison for inflicting the injuries that took the life of Nicholas Miller in June of 2009 at a farmhouse in Dakota County near Northfield. He'll be eligible for parole in 30 years.
"Justice has been served," Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom told reporters after the verdict, "When you cause the death of a child while committing child abuse and there is a past pattern of child abuse that's been inflicted upon that child by the defendant, charges of first degree murder can be brought."
After deliberating for 31 hours over four days, jurors found Hokanson guilty on two counts of first degree murder while committing child abuse, and two counts of second degree murder while committing a felony.
"These were horrific injuries," Backstrom remarked, "This little boy was shaken multiple times, at least ten, up to 15 or more, violent shakes."
The boy's autopsy revealed bleeding in the brain and swelling consistent with violent shaking injuries. The examination also showed Nicholas had suffered a broken bone in his back during the same episode, resulting in fluid slowly filling his lungs.
"Mr. Hokanson was the only person that knew he'd been seriously injured," Backstrom asserted, "The rest of the folks watched and thought he may have had an illness."
The boy became silent and motionless in the days following the June 19th attack. Hokanson took Nicholas to his own family's home in Wisconsin where the child died on June 23rd. He never received medical treatment for those injuries.
Backstrom thanked jurors for their hard work during the two and a half week trial. He said child abuse cases are always difficult to prosecute because the victims are often too young to speak, even if they do survive.
But prosecutors keyed in on reports that Nicholas cried and fussed when his biological father, Brian Miller, dropped the youngster off at the farmhouse where his mother and Tylar Hokanson lived at the time.
"Nicholas was too young to speak but his actions spoke very clearly when didn't want anything to do with Tyler Hokanson after June 19th when these injuries were inflicted," Backstrom said, "And I think that spoke volumes to this jury in their deliberations."
Jurors, who carried their deliberations into the Thanksgiving holiday, turned down requests from the media to comment on their decision. They had been sequestered during the trial, staying at a nearby hotel.
The little boy's mother, Melissa Hokanson, testified at the trial after she secured a "use immunity" agreement. Essentially it guaranteed that anything she said on the witness stand could not be used against her in the event she is ever prosecuted in connection with the death of her son.
Backstrom left open the possibility that others may be charged.
"There are other aspects of this case that do remain under investigation, and given the verdict today we'll be looking closely in the next several weeks as to whether or not any additional charges in this case will be filed."

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