Father sent to prison for daughter’s death

A 26-year-old man has been sent to prison for 128 months by an Anoka County District Court judge for the death of his five-month-old daughter in Coon Rapids in May 2011.

Joshua VanHoutan

At sentencing Sept. 12, Judge Tammi Fredrickson gave Joshua Allen VanHoutan credit for 491 day spent in jail since his arrest.

But Steven Meshbesher, VanHoutan’s attorney, said this week that an appeal of the sentence is under consideration.

Notice of appeal has to be made to the Minnesota Court of Appeals within 60 days of the sentence, according to Meshbesher.

In late June, Van Houtan had entered what is known as an Alford plea to a second-degree murder without intent charge.

By entering an Alford plea, Van Houtan maintained his innocence, but admitted that based on the evidence, there was a substantial likelihood that a jury would find him guilty.

According to court documents, in exchange for the Alford plea, prosecutors from the Anoka County Attorney’s Office agreed not to seek an aggravated sentence.

Under state sentencing guidelines, the range for sentencing for unintentional second-degree murder is from 128 to 180 months.

The Anoka County Attorney’s Office sought a higher sentence than was given.

But Meshbesher said in a phone interview that he asked the court for substantial departure from sentencing guidelines, specifically probation and jail, rather than prison time.

“That would be of benefit to the state as well as the defendant,” he said.

At an evidentiary hearing in July, Meshbesher had two medical experts testify on VanHoutan’s behalf, while at the sentencing hearing Sept. 12, family members of victim spoke in support of VanHoutan.

That included the mother of the child, the mother’s family and his father, according to Meshbesher.

While sitting in jail, VanHoutan could have been in a program that would help him understand what happened, Meshbesher said.

There was never any intent to harm the baby; it was a gross miscalculation on his part, he said.

What happened was “completely accidental,” Meshbesher said.

VanHoutan’s daughter, Alexis, was admitted to Mercy Hospital May 11, 2011 where an examination found that she had retinal hemorrhaging and significant bleeding on the brain consistent with being shaken and she was then transferred to Minneapolis Children’s Hospital where she underwent surgery to alleviate the pressure inside of her skull, but she died May 15, 2011, the Anoka County Attorney’s Office stated in a press release.

The baby’s mother told police that Alexis was being cared for by VanHoutan, the baby’s father, at their Coon Rapids home while she was at work, according to the criminal complaint filed against VanHoutan.

When she left for work at about 4 a.m. May 11, 2011 the baby was asleep after being given a bottle by VanHoutan, but at about 9 a.m., she said she got a telephone call from VanHoutan indicating something was wrong with the baby, then another call about 10 a.m. stating the baby would not wake up and “her arms were frail.”

The mother left work, returned to their residence, dressed the baby and brought her to the hospital.

In a voluntary statement to an Anoka County Sheriff’s Office Criminal Investigation Division (CID) investigator, VanHoutan said that between 6:30 and 6:45 a.m. Alexis woke up and he took her into the living room to play, but she was fussy.

Initially, VanHoutan denied harming his daughter, but when he was told it was important for doctors to know how the baby was hurt, he admitted to shaking his daughter twice because she would not calm down.

Using a forensic interview doll, VanHoutan demonstrated shaking Alexis, causing her head to forcibly jerk back and forth.

Later in a post-Miranda statement after being taken into custody, VanHoutan admitted he first shook Alexis about 6:30 a.m., then after about two hours her body was limp and she had trouble keeping her eyes open, prompting him to call the baby’s mother between 9 and 10 a.m. to tell her that Alexis would not wake up and that she was limp.

VanHoutan and the baby’s mother lived at a Flamingo Street address with their three children, two of them twins including Alexis, and the mother’s father, according to the complaint.

Peter Bodley is at [email protected]

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