Michael Hansen 'ecstatic' after murder charges cleared

Michael Hansen
Michael Hansen addresses the media in Minneapolis, Minn., on September 17, 2011. Hansen served six years in prison for the murder of his infant daughter. With help from the Innocence Project, he was granted a new trial and was released on bail. On September 16, prosecutors dropped all charges against him.
MPR Photo/Nikki Tundel

An Alexandria man who was cleared of murder charges on Friday says he's eager to resume a normal life after being in prison for six years.

Michael Hansen was released from prison on bail in August and had been preparing for a new trial when the Douglas County Attorney's Office announced Friday that it was dropping all charges against him.

"I think it'll take me a little while for it to hit me, but I'm very ecstatic about it," Hansen, 34, said at a news conference Saturday. "I'm glad for this to be over, and I just want to get back to work, be with my kids and my family."

Hansen was convicted in 2006 for the murder of his four-month-old daughter Avryonna and sentenced to 14-and-a-half years in prison. But a judge overturned the conviction in July after finding that Ramsey County Medical Examiner Michael McGee gave "false or incorrect" testimony at the original trial.

In a statement released Friday, the Douglas County Attorney's Office said, "After careful consideration, the State no longer believes that it can prove the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt."

Douglas County Attorney Chad Larson did not return calls for comment. In a statement released last month, he said he was looking into the case, and noted that he was not the original prosecutor.

Hansen had written to the Innocence Project of Minnesota, a group that works on behalf of people it believes have been wrongfully convicted, to ask for help on his case. Bridget Sabo, an attorney with the Innocence Project, argued that Hansen was found guilty in part because of the medical examiner's flawed testimony.

Michael Hansen
Michael Hansen hugs defense attorney Bridget Sabo following a press conference in Minneapolis, Minn., on September 17, 2011. After serving six years in prison for the murder of his infant daughter, Hansen was exonerated.
MPR Photo/Nikki Tundel

"We're thrilled today to announce that we will not actually be going forward with the trial, though we were very prepared to do so to prove Mike's innocence," Sabo said.

Hansen says he doesn't know whether he'll take any legal action against the county attorney's office to seek compensation for his time in prison.

At the original trial, McGee, the medical examiner, told the jury that Avryonna died of a skull fracture that could have been caused by being thrown against the concrete wall or floor in the basement room where she was sleeping on a futon with her father and three-year-old sister. He ruled the death a homicide.

But five doctors who agreed to review the case at the request of the Innocence Project disagreed with McGee on the cause and manner of death. They found the skull fracture showed signs of healing and could have been caused by an accident six days before the baby died, when the infant fell out of a shopping cart in a parking lot. They found it's more likely that Avryonna accidentally suffocated in her sleep, and noted that the sleeping arrangements violated several recommendations for safe infant sleep.

The motion to dismiss the indictment focused on the medical examiner's work on the case. It noted that McGee was assigned the case after an initial autopsy by a Douglas County medical examiner. McGee's exam, it said, "was forensically compromised because Avry had already been embalmed following the initial autopsy."

It also noted the testimony of defense experts who disagreed with McGee's findings.

"The State declines to adopt the Defense's position on these issues," the motion said. "However, such alternate explanations of the cause of Avry's death within the context of a very circumstantial and forensically compromised case deprives the State of the ability to prove the Defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt."

McGee did not respond to calls and email on Friday and Saturday. He has previously declined to comment on the Hansen case.

McGee has served as Ramsey County's chief medical examiner for 26 years and serves as the medical examiner for 14 other counties. McGee is a private contractor, not a county employee, and he also takes cases, like the death of Avryonna Hansen, from around the state.

In response to an MPR News report earlier this month, Ramsey County completed a one-day administrative review of the Medical Examiner's Office. The county review did not look at McGee's work on the Hansen case. It found that McGee was in compliance with state laws and the terms of his contract with the county.

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