ALEXANDRIA, Minn. (WCCO/AP) — A Twin Cities man says he wants to return to his family, job, and a normal life after he was exonerated of murdering his infant daughter, a conviction that sent him to prison for six years.
Douglas County prosecutors dropped charges Friday against Michael Hansen, 34, who served six years of a 14-year sentence for second-degree murder in the death of his 3-month-old daughter, Avryonna. The baby died in 2004.
“I am just a normal guy, a 9 to 5 guy, get back to my family and take care of my kids,” said Hansen. “I miss them a lot.”
Hansen had been released from prison in August and was preparing for a new trial when a judge overturned his conviction based on evidence presented by the Innocence Project of Minnesota, which argued independent medical experts found that the baby likely died of accidental suffocation while she slept.
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.
In a statement Friday, the Douglas County Attorney’s Office said it “no longer believes that it can prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.” The new trial had been scheduled to begin Sept. 26.
Bridget Sabo of the Innocence Project said 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.
“He had stalwartly and constantly maintained his innocence to ever hurting his infant daughter,” Sabo said. “What it came down to largely was the medical examiner who conducted the autopsy in the case.”
At the original trial, Ramsey County Medical Examiner Michael McGee called the death a homicide, pointing to a skull fracture before Avryonna died. But Sabo and her team of attorneys said the fracture was likely caused by a fall from a shopping cart at an Alexandria Wal-Mart 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 medical explanation for how she died,” Sabo said.
Attorney Paul Applebaum says compelling evidence was overlooked in the first trial, and he believes the science was not sound.
“Avryonna fell out of the cart in her car seat and our theory and our belief is she struck her head, sustained fracture in that event, not at the time Mike was watching Avryonna,” said Applebaum.
Hansen says it’s been difficult to adjust to life outside of prison, and now he plans to return to his former job as a tool and dye maker and spend time with his two older daughters.
“I don’t ever get that time back, that’s six years lost with my children, six years being blamed for something I didn’t do, I did everything I could to make sure I wasn’t angry,” said Hansen. “I am glad people have finally seen this for what it is. I just want to go on with my life. No amount of money could make up for the six years I sat in prison as an innocent man.”
Earlier this month, Ramsey County officials said they would review the work of medical examiner, Dr. Michael McGee, who initially called the infant death a homicide. He could not be reached for comment at the time of this article, and has not commented publicly on the case.
Hansen’s attorneys say it’s too early to think about a possible settlement at this time.
The Innocence Project said this is their third exoneration in the state of Minnesota since 2007. The public can meet Hansen or hear more about his story at their annual benefit in October.
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