Michael Hansen was wrongfully convicted of murdering his 3 month old daughter, Avryonna Hansen. He served 6 years of a 14.5-year sentence before being exonerated by Innocence Project of Minnesota. On the morning of Avryonna’s death, Mr. Hansen called 911 because she would not wake-up. Paramedics were unable to revive her. Because Avryonna’s death was unexpected, an autopsy was performed. The medical examiner testified that Avryonna died from a significant skull fracture that he believed was caused by an intentional blow to her head while she was in her father’s care. The medical examiner testified that the skull fracture itself caused the baby’s death even though he did not find meaningful swelling, bleeding, or brain injury during the autopsy. He dismissed the idea that the fracture could have been caused by Avryonna’s well-documented fall from a shopping cart 6 days before her death.
The Innocence Project of Minnesota re-opened the case and presented the testimony from a team of experts at a post-conviction hearing. Many of the experts worked on the case at no charge, and half of them spent their careers regularly testifying on behalf of the prosecution. According to the medical experts, the physical evidence demonstrated that Avryonna’s skull fracture was healing and occurred at least three days before she died. From this, the experts surmised that Avryonna’s skull fracture came from her shopping cart fall. Further, the experts testified that a skull fracture alone does not cause death but rather must be accompanied by underlying bleeding or brain injury – neither of which were present. They explained that Avryonna likely passed away from accidental suffocation in her sleep.
The district court judge held that portions of the State’s medical examiner’s trial testimony were not credible and that other portions were false or incorrect. Mr. Hansen was exonerated when the State formally dismissed the charges against him.