MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – A 22-year-old Bemidji woman is accused of manslaughter in the death of her 6-year-old old cousin in late February, according to charges filed Monday in Beltrami County Court.
Rachel Downer was charged with second-degree manslaughter in connection with the Feb. 27 incident, where 6-year-old Mercedes Mayfield was left out in the bitter cold outside a Bemidji apartment and later found dead. Temperatures were in the 20-below zero range when Mayfield was found outside the apartment. Downer is Mayfield’s cousin.
According to the charges, Downer told police she was babysitting for her aunt, who was at work. When she was going home, Mayfield helped her carry some items out to a vehicle and Downer said she saw the girl go back into the apartment building.
The complaint states the girl’s mother told police she was on pain medication for an arm injury, Downer knew that and would spend the night at the apartment. Mayfield arrived home from after-school activities at about 5 p.m., and the girl’s mother went to bed after the children in the apartment ate. Downer said she was going to take the girl with her to her residence for the night, but later changed her mind without saying anything to the girl’s mom. Downer then gathered her belongings and went to load her car with the girl’s help.
The complaint states while Mayfield helped Downer load the vehicle, she closed the door behind her lightly enough that the door did not latch. Downer then waited until she watched the girl go back into the building before leaving.
The girl’s mother found her at about 6:30 a.m. the next day unresponsive on the front step of the apartment building, when temperatures were down to negative 20 and the wind chill was near 40-below zero. When authorities found the girl, they said she was inside an apartment entrance, clothed in gloves, a coat and a hat. She was pronounced dead at the scene.
The complaint states the apartment does have a security system where people who do not have keys can press a button to buzz the apartment they are trying to get into.
Authorities said Mayfield died of hypothermia. If convicted, Downer faces up to 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine. She was released from custody with the agreement not to flee the area and return to Beltrami County Court next week.