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Mother of injured Grand Forks baby testifies in man's attempted murder trial

The attempted murder trial of Steven Klein, a father accused of shaking his 4-week-old daughter, began Tuesday in Grand Forks. Prosecutors called the girl's mother, Kelly Benson, to tell jurors what happened Aug. 24, 2008, when her daughter was rushed to Altru Hospital.

Benson testified that her daughter appeared OK when she left to go shopping around 1:30 p.m. She said Klein stayed with the girl in their Grand Forks mobile home.

While Benson was out, phone records show she spoke with Klein twice at 2:44 p.m. and 3:55 p.m. During those calls, she told jurors, Klein did not say their daughter was not doing well.

Benson testified that when she came home, she found Klein standing in their living room holding their daughter who was pale, limp and not breathing. She said Klein told her to call an ambulance.

Prosecutors played a recording of the 911 call Benson made at 4:20 p.m. During the call, Benson tells a dispatcher her daughter is having trouble breathing. The dispatcher asks how long it's been going on, and a male voice in the background, presumably Klein's, says, "About a half an hour." The male voice later says the girl is taking breaths every 30 or 40 seconds and that she didn't have an accident.

Kagen Waage, a paramedic who responded to the call, told jurors that when he arrived, the girl's life was obviously in danger. "She wasn't breathing at all," he testified. "I couldn't feel a pulse."

Waage testified he intubated her to help her breathe and gave her medicine to get her heart going. After arriving at Altru, the girl was flown to MeritCare Hospital in Fargo.

Police investigator Michael Iwan testified that Klein told him the girl was making gurgling sounds before Benson came home, but that he didn't pay much attention to them.

Breathing problem

Rebecca Heigaard McGurran, Klein's court-appointed attorney, told jurors during her opening statement that almost everybody who had contact with Klein's daughter before Aug. 24 noticed she had a breathing problem. Benson testified that she and Klein asked their doctor about their daughter's breathing.

"We thought she was struggling, but every time we brought her to the pediatrician she would say don't worry about it," Benson said.

In his opening statement, McCarthy said that doctor is expected to testify that, aside from being born about five weeks premature, the girl was healthy.

Heigaard McGurran told jurors that within 90 minutes of Klein's daughter arriving at Altru, doctors became suspicious of her injuries. She said doctors in Fargo fed off those suspicions. "They were looking to prove that somebody had done something to this child," she said.

Heigaard McGurran advised jurors to be careful when considering doctors' testimony.

"Medical is important, but it isn't the only thing in play here. We have to use our own common sense," she said.

Benson testified that she now lives in Fargo with her daughter. She said her girl, who is now 20 months old, cannot walk, talk or crawl, but that she's working on getting her to sit up. She said her daughter is fed through a tube, breathes with the help of a tracheotomy and takes medication to prevent seizures.

Benson said she lived with Klein for two years before their daughter was born. She said she never saw Klein handle her roughly or become angry with her. She said he would take care of her, read to her, stay up with her; it was her belief he loved her.

Benson told jurors that when she asked Klein what happened that afternoon: "He just said he found her not breathing."

Prior conviction

Klein, 35, was convicted in 1994 of assaulting a 14-month-old in his care in Moorhead, leaving the child with serious head injuries. Before the trial in Grand Forks, prosecutors made a motion seeking permission to introduce that conviction as evidence. The judge is waiting to rule on the motion until later in the trial.

On the Grand Forks charge, Klein was arrested in June 2009 after an investigation into his daughter's injuries, which included brain swelling, multiple brain bleeds and hemorrhaging in her eyes. Klein is no longer in custody and lives in Crookston.

He's pleaded not guilty to a charge of attempted murder or child abuse. If jurors decide there's not enough evidence to prove he tried to kill his daughter, they could find him guilty of child abuse. If convicted of attempted murder, Klein faces a maximum prison term of 20 years. If convicted of child abuse, the maximum is 10 years.

Judge Sonja Clapp asked the 14 jurors -- seven men and seven women -- to report to the Grand Forks County courthouse at 9 a.m. today. The trial is expected to last until Thursday.