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Four-year-old boy arrived with fatal injury and more

GLENWOOD — Four-year-old Eric Dean was “basically dead’’ when the 911 call was made to summon help to the Starbuck house of Amanda Peltier and David Dean at 11:40 p.m. on Feb. 27, 2013.

Eric arrived at the Glacial Ridge Hospital in Glenwood without a pulse, and with bruises and injuries that would soon lead a medical examiner to conclude he had been a victim of abuse, Robert Plesha, a prosecutor with the Minnesota State Attorney General’s office, told a jury of eight men and six women in opening arguments Friday in Pope County District Court in Glenwood.

The jurors — two are alternates — will decide if Peltier, 32, is guilty of first-degree murder – while committing child abuse with a past pattern of child abuse and murder in the second degree – without intent while committing a felony.

Ramsey County Medical Examiner Michael McGee will tell them that the boy died of blunt force trauma, according to Plesha.

His small intestine was compressed so severely against his spine that it tore, spilling the contents and causing peritonitis and a sepsis infection that caused his organs to shut down.

The complaint filed by Pope County Attorney and co-prosecutor Neil Nelson charges that Peltier had “launched’’ the 4-year-old against a wall when upset with him.

Eric’s body also had bite marks under his hair and on his cheek. There were bruises all over his forehead, according to Plesha. His inner ears were bruised and bloody. His mouth was smashed, the upper and lower lips swollen and cut.

All of these injuries occurred in the last 48 hours of his life, a time when he never left the house or the company of Peltier. Hardly 48 hours before that 911 call was made Eric was examined by a public health nurse during a pre-school screening. “No bruises, cuts. Perfectly healthy, normal,’’ Plesha said of what the nurse recorded.

Eric was one of six young children in a household created after Peltier and David Dean moved in together. Two of the children — including Eric — were those of David Dean and Sommar Kemp of Glenwood. Peltier was the biological mother to the other three children, one of which David Dean fathered.

Plesha told the jury that Eric had difficulty learning to speak, and that he frustrated Peltier. She treated him in ways she did not treat her biological children, he charged.

The first suspicions of child abuse were raised by a doctor at the Stevens County Medical Center in July 2011. Peltier brought the then 2-year-old Eric there for a broken arm she said was the result of a fall down some stairs. The spiral break concerned the physician. A twisted arm break can be symptomatic of abuse, Plesha said. An investigation initiated by the Pope County social services office did not conclude that child abuse had occurred, but the physician who conducted it expressed concern.

Others did too. Two different day care providers who cared for Eric expressed concerns of possible abuse before Peltier took over full-time charge of his care, according to the prosecutor.

And, Plesha said, a teacher with the Minnewaska School District who helped Eric with his speaking difficulties also expressed concern about abuse.

Defense Attorney Scott Belfry told the jurors they will hear no evidence that Peltier “did anything’’ to harm the child. The wounds to the forehead were self-inflicted, said Belfry. Eric banged his head against the wall or floor at his own volition, according to the attorney.

The bite marks and other wounds were the result of scuffles with the other children. He had trouble with his balance.

On Feb. 25, the day before his pre-school screening, the family returned from a weekend get-away to the Twin Cities and St. Cloud. The six children returned home excited, Eric fell as he entered the doorway around 8 or 9 p.m. and the others fell on him, Belfry said.

Eric started throwing two days later. His abdomen swelled so large that Peltier described it as looking like “that of an Ethiopian child,’’ according to Plesha.

The next day, Eric was still throwing up and apparently delirious, at one point trying to drink his vomit. That night Peltier stepped outside the house for a cidarette, and came back to find Eric throwing up a black liquid and not breathing. She woke up the boy’s father, who called 911 while she started CPR.

“That’s the time the 911 call was made,’’ said the prosecutor. “When Eric was not breathing.’’

Testimony is scheduled to continue through the coming week.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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