High court maintains conviction in Eric Dean death
ST. PAUL -- The Minnesota Supreme Court rejected an appeal of the woman convicted in the death of 4-year-old Eric Dean three years ago.Wednesday's ruling says Amanda Lea Peltier's trial was fair and her life sentence, with the possibility of supe...
ST. PAUL - The Minnesota Supreme Court rejected an appeal of the woman convicted in the death of 4-year-old Eric Dean three years ago.
Wednesday’s ruling says Amanda Lea Peltier’s trial was fair and her life sentence, with the possibility of supervised release after 30 years, will stand.
The case drew strong emotions because Pope County officials had received 15 reports warning that Dean was being abused. State law was partially responsible for the right people not hearing about the situation, and legislators are working to improve the situation.
Peltier appealed her conviction, saying the jury instruction was incomplete, the district court should not have allowed a witness to say that biting a child is “particularly vicious” and that the prosecutor engaged in misconduct during closing arguments.
She claimed the three problems resulted in her not getting a fair trial. High court justices disagreed.
On the evening of Feb. 27, 2013, police responded to a 911 call that her stepson, Dean, was unresponsive. He later died in a St. Cloud hospital.
The Supreme Court ruling said that an autopsy showed that he likely has been bitten by an adult, been struck, was hurt on the lips and both ears were injured. His death was caused by a perforated bowel, probably due to a blunt force injury. Peltier said the boy was sick.
She was convicted of first-degree murder while committing child abuse, second-degree felony murder and second-degree manslaughter.
Peltier claims that the judge’s jury instruction told jurors they could find her guilty without prosecutors proving all the elements of the crime. The high court ruled that the instruction adequately explained the law in the case.
Likewise, the court disagreed with Peltier’s accusation that an expert saying that an adult biting a child was “particularly vicious” was out of line. She said the testimony was inflammatory and did not help the jury.
While justices said allowing the use of the phrase was “a close call,” they ruled there is no reason to believe that it influenced the jury’s verdict.
Peltier also objected to a prosecutor’s remarks during closing arguments, which she said disparaged her attorneys, argued facts not backed by evidence and misstated the law.
Justices say that her attorney did not object to the remarks at the time and the alleged infractions did not appear to affect the verdict. Also, Peltier’s attorney did not try to rebut the comments during closing arguments.
However, the justices said that some things the prosecution said “have no basis in the record.”
Soon after the Dean case became public, state lawmakers began working on changing the law so such a situation does not come up again.
Last year, they passed legislation to open communications among agencies that may be involved in child abuse cases. This year, bills are expected to be debated to improve abuse investigations.