A Breckenridge, Minn., man whose 3-year-old boy was found dead last week has been charged with murder.
Tracy Norman Brant, 35, was charged Thursday in Wilkin County District Court with second-degree murder, three counts of third-degree assault and two counts of malicious punishment to a child in the death of Winter Sky Barker, whose last birthday was in February.
Brant denied to police that he caused any fatal injuries to Winter. Although he admitted to spanking his children, he blamed bruises and marks found on the boy on Winter’s 2-year-old half-brother, who he said had pushed the 3-year-old in a playpen and hit him with broken plastic hangers.
First responders called to the family’s apartment on April 10 on a report of a child not breathing were unable to revive the boy. Last week, the Ramsey County Medical Examiner’s Office said Winter died of blunt-force trauma to his stomach and found rib fractures indicative of child abuse that were several weeks old, according to the criminal complaint. The examiner’s office also reported bruises on the boy’s head, face and stomach, including 14 marks on his back consistent with a pattern of abuse that officials said couldn’t have been caused by a 2-year-old or a plastic hanger.
According to the complaint, the boy was living with his mother, Korey Finley, until January when she was arrested on drug charges. He then was moved to the home of Brant and his girlfriend, Ramona Shortman, 23, and the couple’s three children — a 28-month-old, a 14-month-old and a 2-month-old.
Shortman told police that Winter vomited on April 9 and complained about stomach pain, refusing to eat anything the rest of the day before falling asleep on a couch. The next morning, she said she left for an appointment and Brant called her, saying, “I think Winter’s dead.” He told police he had found the boy unresponsive, with blue lips, and began resuscitation efforts.
The couple’s three other children were removed from the home and placed with the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate tribe, according to the criminal complaint. Brant is in jail, where he was booked April 10 on an unrelated warrant.
Police and the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension are continuing to investigate the boy’s death. Breckenridge Police Chief Kris Karlgaard said last week it’s the first child fatality in several years in Breckenridge, a city of about 3,300 residents 200 miles northwest of the Twin Cities, near the North Dakota border.
In the boy’s obituary, the family said Winter, “Ka bde za Ho” (Clear Voice), loved cuddling, giving kisses and holding his Spider-Man doll. A funeral will be held Saturday in Sisseton, S.D.
In 2016, the most recent year of state data, 26 Minnesota children died from maltreatment — the most in five years.