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Town of Campbell father won't be charged in baby drowning

A town of Campbell man shouldn't face criminal charges in his 15-month-old daughter's drowning, a La Crosse County jury ruled Wednesday during a rare death inquest hearing.

A town of Campbell man shouldn't face criminal charges in his 15-month-old daughter's drowning, a La Crosse County jury ruled Wednesday during a rare death inquest hearing.

Prosecutors called the proceeding for the panel to determine whether the child's Dec. 28 death was accidental or criminal.

"We thought it was a close call, that reasonable people could see it either way," La Crosse County District Attorney Tim Gruenke said.

The six-member jury was presented evidence and heard from witnesses during a three-hour hearing. The panel issued its advisory verdict after deliberating 30 minutes in La Crosse County Circuit Court.

The father won't be prosecuted, Gruenke said.

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"Given the inquest jury's finding that this was an accident, I respect their opinion and think it's unlikely we could convince 12 people beyond a reasonable doubt that it's a crime," he said.

Prosecutors last called for a death inquest hearing in 2004 to examine the case of a bicyclist struck by a car and killed at night on Hwy. 33. The jury in that case also ruled against criminal charges.

"We only do (the hearing) when there is a reason to. Most cases are not close calls," Gruenke said. "It's worth going the extra step before we decide not to do anything or charge."

During Wednesday's hearing, Gruenke for once wasn't trying prove a crime and at times played the role of a defense attorney while asking the jury to consider whether there was enough evidence to charge the father with child neglect causing death.

The father told investigators he was giving his daughter a bath about 4:45 p.m. Dec. 28 when he left the room for no more the five minutes to change his other child's diaper on a living room couch.

He could see the tub from the living room and went back into the bathroom when he didn't hear splashing to find his daughter submerged in seven inches of water.

He is hysterical and mostly inaudible on a 911 call as the dispatcher tries to give instructions for CPR.

"Please, hurry," he screams. "It's my (expletive) daughter ... my baby's dying."

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La Crosse police officer Corrie Korn testified finding the panicked father screaming for help while holding the lifeless child. The man was too hysterical to help the officer with CPR.

Medical experts determined the child drown by eliminating other causes of death, forensic pathologist Lindsey Thomas testified. The girl did not have a head injury.

The child's pediatrician testified leaving her alone in the bathroom could constitute neglect, even if the father could still see the tub from another room.

"I really think it's a breach of common sense," Gundersen Lutheran Medical Center pediatrician David Gerhard.

Investigators found bongs and other drug paraphernalia in the apartment, including a baby bottle converted into a marijuana pipe, La Crosse County sheriff's Sgt. John Zimmerman testified. He did not smell marijuana smoke in the apartment that day.

The father had THC in his blood, State Crime Laboratory toxicologist Mike Larson testified, though it's impossible to determine exactly when he last smoked marijuana.

(c)2011 the La Crosse Tribune (La Crosse, Wis.)

Visit the La Crosse Tribune (La Crosse, Wis.) at www.lacrossetribune.com

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Distributed by MCT Information Services

Related Topics: CRIME
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