Woman convicted of murdering 4-year-old gets life sentence
By Amy Chaffins
GLENWOOD, Minn. - A Starbuck woman was found guilty of murder Wednesday in the death of a 4-year-old boy in her care and was immediately sentenced to life in prison.
A jury in Pope County District Court convicted Amanda Peltier on three counts in the death of Eric Dean: first-degree murder while committing child abuse with a past pattern of child abuse, second-degree murder without intent while committing a felony and second-degree manslaughter.
Eighth District Judge Gerald Seibel handed down the life sentence. Peltier, 32, reportedly will be eligible for parole in 30 years.
Because she was found guilty on the first-degree murder charge, she was not sentenced on the two lesser crimes.
Peltier remained stoic after the verdict was announced. She was immediately taken into custody by Pope County sheriff’s deputies and removed from the courtroom.
Eric died Feb. 28, 2013.
Peltier was caring for him at her Starbuck home in February 2013 when she allegedly became upset with the boy and launched him across a room.
Eric reportedly fell ill that night and into the next day before an ambulance was called to the home late Feb. 27. The boy was airlifted to St. Cloud Hospital, where he died early the next morning.
Eric was the son of Sommar Kemp of Glenwood and David Dean of Starbuck.
David Dean was Peltier’s live-in fiancé at the time.
Throughout the trial, testimony and evidence revealed a pattern of physical abuse the boy suffered.
Medical Examiner Michael McGee testified that based on the injuries he saw during the child’s autopsy, he believed Eric was an abused child and the manner of death was homicide.
The boy had bruising on his forehead and ears, bite marks on his scalp, a split upper lip with extensive bruising and an abdominal injury — peritonitis from a perforated bowel — that ultimately caused his death.
The doctor said the internal injuries were likely caused by significant blunt force trauma to the boy’s abdomen.
In closing arguments Wednesday morning, prosecutor Robert Plesha held up autopsy photos and said Eric was “the poster child for what child abuse looks like.”
The prosecutor alleged that Peltier perpetuated lies about how Eric received the injuries — stating he had intentionally hurt himself by pulling on his ears and head-banging, he had unintentionally hurt himself by falling down a flight of stairs, and he was injured by another child who bit him.
“The defendant lied to avoid responsibility for child abuse,” Plesha said. “If she lied to avoid responsibility for biting a child, what do you think she’d do to avoid responsibility (for) an injury that resulted in the death of a child?”
The prosecutor said Eric was the only child, of six living in the home, who had marks of abuse and when he was injured, no one else was present to account for how the injuries happened.
Plesha again held up autopsy photos and told the jury: “Eric is speaking loud and clear. What he’s telling you is ‘Mommy did it.’ The launch resulted in his death. He’s telling you, ‘Mommy did it.’ ”
Defense attorney Jan Nordmeyer spoke of the house where Peltier, David Dean and the six children lived.
“Eric is the busiest resident. He’s clumsy, in constant motion, risk-taking and attention-seeking. We miss him, but Amanda Peltier did not cause his death,” she said.
She said the jurors needed to surround themselves with fact, not emotion, speculation, guesswork and innuendos.
“No one has an exact answer about when, where or how the injuries occurred,” she said.
Just after 11 a.m., two alternate jurors were excused and the jury was sent to deliberate.
The jury returned with its verdict around 4:30 p.m.
After the guilty verdict was read, the jury was excused and Sommar Kemp, Eric’s mother, took the stand and read a statement.
In part, she said, “No words can explain my loss … he was a delightful little boy and I’ll never get the chance to say I’m sorry, you’re safe now.”
Before sentencing Peltier, Judge Seibel said he was struck by the loss — the loss of Eric, the loss of Peltier’s liberty, the loss of innocence in the community.
“Child abuse does exist. It’s something this community has to be ever vigilant towards,” he said.
During the trial, one of Peltier’s children testified that he had witnessed her hit Eric. Seibel referenced the child’s testimony and said he hopes the child keeps the good memories of his mom, but hopes the boy loses some of the memories of how children were treated and disciplined.
“The reason I say that is all the research indicates child abuse is cyclical, and there’s a greater likelihood that children from an abusive home will commit abuse when they’re older. We can hope the chain is broken at this point in time,” Seibel said.