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Minnesota man sentenced for killing 5-week-old daughter

John Douglas Peterson

AITKIN, Minn.—A 34-year-old Palisade man was sentenced to 17½ years in prison for killing his infant daughter last November by throwing her 12 feet into the air and across a kitchen.

John Douglas Peterson was convicted Sept. 27 in Aitkin County District Court of second-degree murder without intent in the death of the 5-week-old girl. A separate charge of second-degree felony murder was dismissed.

Peterson was sentenced to serve his time at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in St. Cloud. He was given credit for 36 days already served.

According to the criminal complaint, authorities were notified by the girl's mother about 1 p.m. Nov. 18, 2016, that the girl was taking deep breaths and was barely breathing. Peterson told a first responder the girl had been fussy, then began having breathing problems and stopped breathing completely. CPR was performed on the girl prior to the ambulance arriving at the house.

The girl was transferred from Riverwood Healthcare Center to Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota in Minneapolis, where staff notified Aitkin County authorities on Nov. 19, 2016, that the girl had likely been the victim of physical abuse due to three separate bruises. She died on Nov. 21, 2016, as a result of "significant head injuries," the complaint stated.

Peterson initially denied to Children's staff that the baby fell. He later told Children's staff he wasn't truthful and he dropped her in the sink, where she hit the front of her head on the sink's divider and became unresponsive. A doctor from Midwest Children's Resource Center, a department at Children's specializing in child abuse, examined the girl and determined her injuries couldn't have been caused by the fall Peterson described.

In an interview with authorities, Peterson said he lost his grip while trying to pick the girl up because she was fussy and flailing. He said the girl fell, hitting her head on the middle of the sink before ricocheting and hitting her head on the bottom of the sink. He said she was gasping for air when he picked her up.

However, when authorities pointed out his explanation didn't match the girl's injuries, Peterson said the girl also fell from the sink to the floor and "everything happened so fast and he was trying to prevent her from hitting the floor and because he was trying (to) catch her, it was like he pushed and tried to grab her at the same time and she hit the ground and it was ugly," the complaint stated.

In another meeting with authorities, Peterson again said the girl rolled out of his arms while he was getting a bottle ready and hit her head on the sink before falling onto the floor. After authorities pressed him, however, Peterson said he lied "because he was very scared," the complaint stated.

He said he was frustrated because he couldn't calm her down, he threw the baby "with a fair amount of force, like a basketball, approximately 12 feet through the air into the kitchen," where the girl "landed on her back and skidded across the floor approximately a foot before the back of her head struck the lip on the bottom of the cupboards," the complaint stated. He said she was gasping for air after hitting the cupboards and he admitted that her skull fracture likely occurred when she hit the floor.

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