ALEXANDRIA, Minn. (AP) – A Minnesota man convicted of killing his infant daughter seven years ago has been released from jail after winning a new trial with evidence pointing to accidental suffocation as the cause of death.
Michael Hansen, 34, served six years of a 14-year sentence for second-degree murder in the death of his 3-month-old daughter, Avryonna Hansen, until a judge overturned his conviction based on evidence presented by the Innocence Project of Minnesota. Hansen was released Thursday from the Douglas County Jail in Alexandria after posting bail. He faces a new trial beginning in late September.
Minnesota Public Radio News first reported Hansen’s release and new trial.
Defense attorney Bridget Sabo of the Innocence Project of Minnesota said Friday that independent medical experts found that the baby likely died of accidental suffocation while she slept on her stomach on a futon with blankets and pillows near her father and 3-year-old sister. Seven years later, Sabo said parents are now routinely told to put infants to sleep on their backs without blankets or pillows, as part of a public health campaign to reduce sudden infant deaths.
At the original trial, Ramsey County Medical Examiner Michael McGee called the death a homicide, pointing to a skull fracture before Avryonna died. Sabo said the fracture was likely caused by a fall from a shopping cart six days before the death, and medical experts enlisted by the Innocence Project concluded that the fracture was healing.
“Sudden infant death is a very reasonable explanation, a medical explanation for how she died,” Sabo said.
Neither McGhee nor Douglas County Attorney Chad Larson immediately returned voice mail messages seeking comment Friday.
Hansen walked out of the jail on Thursday, looking skyward and giving his mother, Debra Meyer, a big hug. He told MPR he was looking forward to time with his family and a home-cooked meal.
Reached Friday at a family cabin, Hansen said he is eager to reconnect with his two children and put his life back together.
“I want to get back to work and see my kids and just get all this taken care of,” Hansen said. “I don’t want my daughter to be remembered this way, and that’s what’s most important for me.”
Sabo said the Innocence Project agreed to look into Hansen’s case after his original appeal was denied and he sent the organization a letter asking for help. The group asked five doctors to review the autopsy report, including two medical examiners, an emergency medicine physician, a forensic pathologist and an expert in child abuse.
Sabo said she hopes the new evidence will clear Hansen’s name.
“He’s always been absolutely committed to his children. That’s part of the real tragedy of this case. He’s never been able to grieve his baby properly,” she said.
The new trial is scheduled to start Sept. 26.
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