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Man convicted in Duluth tot's death gets maximum prison time

Michael Virgil Tahtinen

Before being sentenced, Michael Tahtinen tearfully told the court that he loved Connor Robison like a son and would do nothing to hurt him. Connor's mother, Amanda, testified in her victim impact statement that she didn't believe that Tahtinen had anything to do with the death of her 11-month-old son.

But 12 jurors who heard the evidence determined that Tahtinen caused the boy's death by malicious punishment and found him guilty of first-degree manslaughter. On Monday, Judge Sally Tarnowski sentenced Tahtinen to eight years, seven months in prison, the maximum penalty under sentencing guidelines for a person with no prior criminal history.

The 103-month sentence was asked for by the St. Louis County Attorney's Office and recommended to the court by an Arrowhead Regional Corrections probation officer. The defense asked Tarnowski to either place Tahtinen, 38, on 15 years of probation or sentence him to less than the minimum 74-month guideline sentence.

Tarnowski listened to about 45 minutes of arguments, retired to her chambers for 15 minutes of contemplation and returned to the courtroom with her decision.

The judge told those assembled in the courtroom that she received some compelling letters in support of Tahtinen. But she said that just because a person is considered a good person by some doesn't mean that they don't commit child abuse. She added that Tahtinen's insistence that he is a loving person had nothing to do with being capable of child abuse.

Tarnowski told Tahtinen that she couldn't disregard the guilty verdict returned by the jury and that sufficient evidence was introduced at trial to determine that the infant died "at your hands and not from a fall from a Pack 'n' Play."

Tahtinen told Duluth police that he twice picked the boy off the floor in his home after the boy purportedly fell 30 inches to the carpet after crawling over the top of the portable crib on Sept. 4, 2008. In asking the court for leniency, the defendant maintained his innocence and repeatedly said: "All I did was pick him up. That's all I did."

"The truth is, your honor, that I loved Connor. I loved him very much," Tahtinen said. "I considered him to be part of my family. ... I'm just as devastated at Connor's passing as his mother is. I can't explain what happened that day."

Amanda Robison told the court that her late son loved Tahtinen like a father. "I have never once doubted Mike," she said. "He never did this in the first place. It seems like a horrible nightmare. ... My son died as the result of an accident."

Assistant St. Louis County Medical Examiner Dr. Donald Kundel performed an autopsy and found Connor suffered multiple tears in his liver, including a massive laceration with the tear extending deep into the organ. The death was ruled a homicide. Kundel testified at trial that the injury was consistent with being stomped on.

California forensic pathologist Dr. David Posey testified for the defense that Connor's injuries were consistent with a fall from a portable crib and could have been aggravated by the extensive CPR efforts taken to save his life.

Public defender Scott Belfry argued Monday that Tahtinen qualified for a probationary sentence because of his lack of criminal history, because he's a caring person who has been helpful to others, and because he had a broad range of support from friends and relatives.

"This is a court of law, this isn't a court of emotional appeals," Assistant St. Louis County Attorney Kristen Swanson argued to the court. Swanson, who prosecuted the case with Assistant St. Louis County Attorney Gary Bjorklund, said that Tahtinen shouldn't be considered for probation because he didn't admit that he did anything wrong.

"I see somebody expressing true regret, but not ownership of the actions that led to the conviction," Swanson said.

Tarnowski called it a difficult case for everyone involved. She said she recognized Amanda Robison as "a" victim, but that the jury found that Connor was "the" victim, and she handed down her sentence accordingly.

If Tahtinen follows prison rules, he will be released after serving about five years, eight months, with the remainder of his sentence under supervised release rules.