ST. PAUL, Minn.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--The Innocence Project of Minnesota is proud to announce that the Douglas County District Court has overturned the wrongful conviction of Michael Ray Hansen. Hansen spent the last six years in prison for the second-degree murder of his infant daughter, Avryonna Hansen. However, new expert medical evidence proved that Hansen was innocent of hurting his child.
In May of 2004, Hansen was caring for Avryonna and her three-year-old sister while his girlfriend, the girls’ mother, was away. He awoke to find that Avryonna was unresponsive and immediately called 911. The paramedics arrived quickly but were unable to resuscitate her. Heartbroken, Hansen and his girlfriend consented to an autopsy in the hopes of learning why their baby passed away.
Bridget Sabo, the Innocence Project of Minnesota staff attorney who represents Hansen, commented, “Mr. Hansen has never hurt anyone, least of all his baby daughter. I am relieved that the truth has finally come out in Mr. Hansen’s case, but deeply saddened that he had to endure not only the loss of his child, but also the unjustified blame for her death. Mr. Hansen’s case illustrates the danger of a rush to judgment and he is anxious to be vindicated at trial.”
During the autopsy, the medical examiner found that Avryonna had a skull fracture. Six days before her death, Avryonna flipped out of a shopping cart while in her car seat and landed upside down on the pavement. The fall was documented by store officials, but the medical examiner dismissed it as the cause of Avryonna’s fracture without any investigation. Avryonna had none of the brain trauma usually associated with fatal head injuries and the medical examiner could not identify precisely how she died. Nonetheless, he classified the death a homicide and Hansen was convicted based largely on his testimony.
Hansen, who has no prior history of child abuse or violence, stalwartly maintained his innocence and sought the help of the Innocence Project of Minnesota. After consulting with several medical experts with different expertise, the Innocence Project of Minnesota brought a motion to have his case overturned. At a hearing held in the spring of this year, doctor after doctor testified that the skull fracture did not cause Avryonna’s death and that the medical examiner’s investigation was incomplete.
The expert testimony presented at Hansen’s hearing included a pediatrician who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of child abuse and an emergency room physician with more than twenty years of experience. Both doctors testified that a skull fracture is only dangerous when it leads to brain bleeding or swelling. If there isn’t bleeding, swelling or other injury to the brain, as there was not in Avryonna’s case, the fracture will heal on its own and parents and doctors may never even know it existed.
Three independent medical examiners also reviewed the case and each reported that the fracture was healing. The medical examiners also pointed to a variety of other factors that likely caused Avryonna’s sudden and accidental death. None of them believed her death was a homicide.
James Nichols, an associate with the Minneapolis firm of Dorsey and Whitney and volunteer co-counsel on Hansen’s case said, “It is gratifying to have the Court rule in favor of Mr. Hansen. This was a tragedy for everyone involved and the tragedy was compounded by the fact that Mr. Hansen has been wrongfully imprisoned since his trial.”