Warren man found not guilty in death of 4-month-old son
WARREN, Minn. -- Damien Marsden was found not guilty Wednesday by a 12-person jury on all three murder counts he faced in state District Court in connection to the death of his 4-month-old son.
Marsden, 33, of Grygla, Minn., was on trial for causing a head injury to his son, Rylin Marsden, leading to his eventual death in August 2009.
The jury received the case just before 4:30 p.m. and deliberated for less than four hours before coming to a decision.
"I'm just very relieved I've been acquitted," Marsden said. "I'm happy I can get the chance to be with my fiancé and our family."
Marsden said he is currently living in Bottineau, N.D., and working in the Oil Patch. He is engaged to Rylin's mother, Megan Niemi, and they have a 16-month-old son. He said he plans on returning to Grygla and raising a family, a prospect that would have been eliminated by a conviction.
"It was very scary," he said. "It's all I've thought about the last three years. Am I going to be able to be a father to my son? Am I going to be able to have a family?"
'He was innocent'
Marsden took the stand in his own defense Wednesday, saying he needed to face the jury and tell his side of the story on the final day of the trial.
"It was very important," he said. "They needed to see it was heartfelt. I loved my child and it was an unfortunate accident."
Marsden was facing three counts -- murder in the second-degree without intent while committing assault in the first-degree, murder in the second-degree while committing child neglect and murder in the second-degree while committing child endangerment.
Each count carried a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison had he been convicted.
A message for lead prosecutor Matthew Glen Frank was not returned to the Grand Forks Herald by press time.
Rylin Marsden was hospitalized after he was found lifeless and pale by his mother, Megan Niemi, and Marsden in their home in Grygla on Aug. 2, 2009.
He was transported to the Thief River Falls hospital and airlifted later that night to MeritCare Hospital in Fargo, where he was declared dead Aug. 8.
Marsden's attorney Peter J. Wold said the prosecution's case was based nearly entirely on circumstantial evidence.
"He was innocent," Wold said, Marsden's attorney. "There was no evidence -- different opinions from different doctors."
Marsden started his testimony with background information leading up to the point when he met his Niemi.
Niemi already had an infant child when she and Marsden started dating and Marsden said he learned a lot about caring for children directly from her.
Marsden maintained on direct examination that he never harmed or neglected his son. He did admit to being embarrassed when he found Rylin Marsden on the evening of Aug. 1 after the child apparently fell off a bed, an incident he never told Niemi about.
Marsden said his son appeared to be back to normal by later that night, taking a bath and going to bed without further incident.
Frank did not push Marsden under cross-examination on his actions during a key half-hour on Aug 2, 2009, when he was alone with Rylin Marsden just before he called 911.
Marsden claimed under direct questioning that starting around noon, he made a lunch of hamburgers and french fries while Niemi was shopping.
It was around 12:30 p.m. when Niemi arrived home and Marsden walked in from the grill when they both found Rylin Marsden lifeless and pale after throwing up.
Both attorneys completed closing arguments Wednesday afternoon.
Frank focused on the testimony of a number of medical officials who pointed to the injury being caused during that approximately half-hour stretch the day Marsden called 911.
He also poked holes in the defense's theory of the injury, pointing out that neither of the two falls the defense alleges caused Rylin Marsden's death were taken seriously by Niemi or Marsden.
Frank also maintained, citing testimony, that the injury was a blunt-force trauma not likely coming from a short fall.
Wold said no one at the trial could ever testify that Marsden had hurt his son, and that the state hadn't met the burden of proving its case beyond a reasonable doubt.
Wold also cited forensic pathologist Dr. Jonathan Arden's testimony, which supported the defense's version of the injury being caused by a pair of falls and an injury that re-bleeded, not a single traumatic impact.
The first fall, the defense claimed, happened on July 23, 2009, while Rylin Marsden was at day care.
Wold said the jury did a good job of evaluating the mass of medical testimony over two weeks from both the prosecution and defense.
"They were paying attention to every witness," he said. "They were listening all the way along. We had a wide range of jurors with a wealth of life knowledge."
Wold, during his closing statement, warned the jury of convicting on circumstantial evidence, weaving a pair of cautionary tales, including one told by a juror earlier in the jury selection process.