Woman enters guilty plea in 6-year-old's hypothermia death
By Crystal Dey Forum News Service BEMIDJI, Minn. -- Almost a year and a half after a 6-year-old girl died of hypothermia outside a local apartment building, a Bemidji woman has entered a guilty plea Wednesday in Beltrami County District Court. Ra...
By Crystal Dey
Forum News Service
BEMIDJI, Minn. -- Almost a year and a half after a 6-year-old girl died of hypothermia outside a local apartment building, a Bemidji woman has entered a guilty plea Wednesday in Beltrami County District Court.
Rachel Downer, 23, pleaded guilty Wednesday to second-degree manslaughter in the 2014 death of her cousin Mercedes Mayfield, 6. Downer plead not guilty to the charge on July 20 but amended that to guilty Wednesday through a plea agreement.
Sentencing has been set for Sept. 16 before Beltrami County District Court Judge Shari Schluchter. Downer could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison and ordered to pay a $20,000 fine.
Downer was arrested two weeks after Mayfield was found unconscious and unresponsive by her mother, Malika Peoples, on the front step of her apartment building Feb. 27, 2014.
According to court documents, when Peoples did not find her daughter inside the apartment that morning, she called Downer, who said Mayfield was not with her. Peoples then looked out her window, saw her daughter and called 911 at about 6:30 a.m. Officers tried to revive Mayfield's stiff and frozen body, but she was pronounced dead at the scene, according to court documents. Temperatures in Bemidji at the time of Mayfield's death were in the 25-below range with wind chills reaching 40 below or colder.
According to a statement of probable cause, Downer was babysitting Mayfield on Feb. 26. Peoples told law enforcement Downer was going to stay at her apartment that evening as Peoples had suffered an injury and was taking pain medication. In the same statement, Downer told law enforcement she informed Peoples she was instead going to take Mayfield to her apartment that evening, but later changed her mind and did not inform Peoples of the change in plans. The girl helped bring some items out to Downer's car that night, documents said, and Downer told law enforcement she saw Mayfield enter the building before leaving the complex the night of Feb. 26.
After Downer's arrest, she was eventually committed as mentally ill, which prolonged the criminal case.
When a person is found to be mentally ill, a threat to themselves or others and cannot receive treatment in the community, they can be committed to a facility to receive treatment. Criminal files are placed on inactive status until the person can receive treatment and be returned to capacity. An order for a mental deficiency/illness evaluation for Downer was ordered in July of last year. Based on an examiner's report, the court ruled Aug. 18 that Downer was incompetent to be tried and she was committed to treatment as developmentally disabled on March 2. After a 60- to 90-day commitment report in June, Downer was "restored to capacity," which means she is competent to face the charges.