Warning: The graphic nature of this story may be inappropriate for some readers.

The brutal rape of a 9-month-old girl in Hastings has left even police officers, emergency room doctors and courthouse workers outraged.

The baby needed extensive surgery to repair her badly torn body after the April 24 attack but is now at home with her parents.

The 41-year-old suspect, Michael Frederick Schmidt of Hastings, has a history of child endangerment and domestic abuse convictions. He was charged Thursday in Dakota County District Court.

He told police that while he and his wife were baby sitting for her young relative, he changed the child's diaper. Schmidt said the baby started to roll off the couch, and he thought that when he went to catch her, his hangnail cut her, the criminal complaint said.

Doctors said his account was "highly inconsistent" with the nature of the injuries, both internal and external.

Hastings Police Chief Mike McMenomy called it a "horrendous" rape -- one devastating not only to his investigators but also the whole department.

"It's probably the worst crime I've ever seen regarding a sexual assault," he said, as well as the youngest rape victim he has encountered in his 30 years in the department.

Schmidt remained in the Dakota County jail Friday in lieu of $100,000 bail with conditions, or $200,000 without. He is charged with first-degree criminal sexual assault, punishable by up to 30 years in prison.

"What we have charged him with is an egregious act: A 9-month-old infant who was significantly injured, and that's a very sad and disturbing situation," Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom said Friday.

While the baby will recover, he said, she had extremely painful injuries.

"Child abuse is unfortunately a pervasive and tragic problem in this country," he said. "The sexual abuse of children occurs far more frequently than most people realize."

In the United States, it is estimated that one in four girls, and one in six boys, will be sexually abused by the time they reach 18, he said.

"The vast majority of these cases go unreported to law enforcement, and we never hear about them," Backstrom said.

Past pattern of abuse

Among Schmidt's prior convictions for violence is one involving a baby boy in Goodhue County in 1994. Schmidt was convicted of child endangerment after an 8-month old he was caring for suffered extensive genital bruising and purple, swollen testicles. The boy had large bruises on his inner thighs, records show.

It couldn't be determined whether that child was sexually abused, said Goodhue prosecutor Carol Lee, who handled the case and said she still thinks about it. Her priority, she said, was to ensure that the boy was safe. He was sent to live with a relative, she said.

Schmidt has been in and out of jail for that and for domestic abuse cases, interfering with 911 calls, fleeing police and other crimes.

The domestic abuse convictions were for hurting his wife, who was present at least part of the time when the children were assaulted and would not cooperate with officers who investigated the 1994 case and the newest case, officials said.

The abused boy was her own son. For hurting the boy, Schmidt served 15 days out of a one-year jail sentence, and two years on probation. Child neglect charges and other charges were dropped. At that time, Schmidt was the mother's boyfriend, and they later married.

The baby girl's parents apparently did not know of Schmidt's violent past, McMenomy said.

Those parents had received a call from Schmidt's wife about 10 p.m. on the night of the attack. She told them the baby needed stitches.

Workers at a Hastings hospital had the girl transferred to St. Paul Children's Hospital, where surgery was performed.

Not an isolated case

Dakota County sees a couple of cases a year involving victims as young as this one, said Phillip Prokopowicz, chief deputy county attorney.

"In situations involving young infants, obviously we don't have a witness who can testify, and prosecution's more difficult," Backstrom said.

"We have to rely in those situations upon physical evidence and other evidence, such as who had access to the child at the time the injuries occurred, and if there are any statements made to police."

Backstrom said his office would push for the longest sentence possible against Schmidt. Prosecutors filed a motion to enhance the sentencing based on the vulnerability of the victim, abuse of a position of trust, multiple forms of penetration, the suspect's prior crimes against children and "particular cruelty," Backstrom said.

Joy Powell • 952-882-9017