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Prosecutor tells jury in Duluth child abuse trial that 6-year-old victim said, 'OK, Dad. I'll tell them I fell'

Damen Dean Smith

DULUTH - Six-year-old "Mikey'' was in the pediatric intensive care unit of St. Mary's Medical Center with a fractured left elbow, a liver laceration and numerous bruises on his stomach, legs, back and penis in September of 2007.

That's when a nursing assistant overheard the boy talking to his stepfather on the phone, St. Louis County prosecutor Leslie Beiers told a Duluth jury on Friday.

The nursing assistant heard the boy say: "OK, Dad. I'll tell them I fell.''

But Beiers told jurors the boy didn't fall. She said Damen Dean Smith twisted his stepson's arm so hard that a bone broke, and he punched him so hard in the stomach that it caused internal injuries. She said the boy had bruises all over his body. The prosecutor said Smith also assaulted his 8-year-old stepdaughter and 4-year-old son in a pattern of abusing all three.

Smith was expressionless as he heard the prosecutor describe the acts of a monster.

The 32-year-old Duluth man is standing trial on charges of first- and third-degree assault, three counts of felony domestic assault by strangulation, malicious punishment of a child resulting in great bodily harm and two counts of malicious punishment of a child.

He's accused of holding his stepson's head under water in a bathtub until he couldn't breathe, and putting a pellet gun to his head and shooting him with BBs. He's also accused of using unreasonable force or cruel and excessive discipline on his 8-year-old stepdaughter and 4-year-old son.

Public defender Cindy Evenson made a brief, three-minute opening statement in which she asked jurors to reserve judgment until they have heard all of the evidence. She said her client is "100 percent innocent until or unless'' the state meets its burden by producing testimony and evidence that proves Smith's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

The only defense Evenson offered in her opening statement was that one of the children previously made false allegations of abuse against a foster parent.

Beiers suggested to jurors that any inconsistent statements the children made or earlier excuses they made for their injuries, were made because they were afraid of their stepfather. The prosecutor said the children's mother made excuses for their injuries, sometimes inferring that they were just normal bruises that a child gets.

Beiers said Mikey told a nurse: "I'm afraid to go home. I'm afraid I'll be beaten up.'' She said the boy also told the nurse not to tell his parents he said that. Beiers said the stepdaughter said her stepdad told her he would kill her if she told anyone.

The three alleged victims are scheduled to testify in the trial that could take up to two weeks. Sixth Judicial District Judge David Johnson is presiding.

The case broke open, Beiers said, after Duluth police Family Crimes Investigator Bob Carter got involved and interviews were conducted with the First Witness Child Abuse Resource Center. Carter told the 8-year-old girl that somebody was hurting her brother and he was going to work hard to find out who it was. He told the girl that police protect kids and it was his job to keep them from being hurt. He gave her his business card.

Beiers said the girl came forward a couple of days later and said her stepfather had been beating the kids. "Don't tell my dad. He's mean,'' Beiers said the girl said.

Beiers said Mikey now lives in a foster home with two of his siblings and is doing well.

Johnson adjourned the trial after the opening statements. Testimony begins Monday.