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Northwestern Minnesota woman charged with murdering infant

Sarah Kortan

RED LAKE FALLS, Minn.—A Red Lake Falls woman has been accused of murdering a 2-month-old child she was taking care of while the biological mother is in prison.

The Red Lake County Sheriff's Office arrested 30-year-old Sarah Leah Kortan on Tuesday, July 3, on a second-degree felony charge of murder, which carries a maximum punishment of 40 years in prison. The criminal case is the result of an investigation into the death of a 2-month-old girl who was found not breathing June 20 in Kortan's apartment.

Kortan, a relative who was taking care of the child, made the 911 call, according to the complaint.

A deputy who responded to the incident attempted CPR on the infant before emergency responders arrived and took over life-saving efforts, according to a news release. The child was taken to Sanford Hospital in Thief River Falls before being airlifted to Sanford in Fargo.

Sanford emergency room staff in Thief River Falls were able to resuscitate the infant, but they told investigators they found "little to no brain activity, and it appeared to possibly be shaken baby syndrome," according to charging documents. Fargo medical staff determined the child was brain dead.

The child was removed from life support two days later and died.

Kortan told investigators she dropped the child on the floor several days before the infant died, according to charging documents. The child hit her head on the stove then the floor, Kortan claimed.

Kortan took a nap with the infant and woke up, finding that the child had turned purple, the documents said. She also told officers she killed the baby and "it was all her fault," according to the documents.

An autopsy revealed the infant had multiple skull fractures and retinal hemorrhages and detachment in her eyes. The injuries were "not consistent with an accidental fall but were sustained from inflicted trauma," the release said.

"The death occurred as a result of injuries sustained during a physical assault and/or by acts associated with the malicious punishment of a child under the age of 4," Sheriff Mitch Bernstein said in the release.

Bernstein said a weapon was not used in the alleged assault.

The child's mother, who was not identified in court documents or by the Sheriff's Office, is serving time at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Shakopee, Minn., and was not at Kortan's house when the incident was reported, according to a news release. Kortan is a cousin of the child's mother, who had given the infant to Kortan to care for while in prison, according to charging documents.

Court documents also revealed Kortan was soliciting via Facebook to provide in-home day care at her residence. She was taking care of a 12- and 8-year-old from Thief River Falls during the alleged abuse.

"Due to the severity of the crime, it is believed that there is a potential threat for Sarah Kortan to have ongoing contact with children," the court documents said.

The other unidentified children who were in Kortan's care during the incident were not injured, Bernstein said.

Kortan was booked Tuesday into the Northwest Regional Corrections Center.

April Baumgarten

April Baumgarten joined the Grand Forks Herald May 19, 2015, and covers crime and education. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, where her family raises registered Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at Jamestown (N.D.) College, now known as University of Jamestown. During her time at the college, she worked as a reporter and editor-in-chief for the university's newspaper, The Collegian. Baumgarten previously worked for The Dickinson Press as a city government and energy reporter in 2011 before becoming the editor of the Hazen Star and Center Republican. She then returned to The Press as a news editor, where she helped lead an award-winning newsroom in recording the historical oil boom.

Have a story idea? Contact Baumgarten at 701-780-1248.

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