Jurors in Dakota County baby rape case didn't buy man's tale

  • Article by: JOY POWELL , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 7, 2010 - 9:57 PM

The baby girl, raped at 9 months, was one of the county's youngest sex-assault victims ever. Her assailant faces up to 30 years.

The foreman of a Dakota County jury that convicted a Hastings man of raping a baby said Tuesday that jurors had no doubt defendant Michael Frederick Schmidt was lying when he claimed the girl's injuries were accidental.

The 12 jurors deliberated less than 30 minutes before delivering a guilty verdict against Schmidt, 41.

The medical photos of a baby so injured that she needed two hours of surgery, and the unconvincing testimony from Schmidt kept running through the mind of jury foreman Eldred Reinhardt over the long holiday weekend, he said.

"I don't know any normal person who couldn't find this disturbing," said Reinhardt. "And if you have kids, it's even more disturbing."

Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom said the case was shocking, not least because it involved one of the youngest rape victims ever in Dakota County.

"This is the type of case that I'm sure members of the jury will never forget because of the graphic nature of this sexual assault upon such a young infant," he said, "nor will members of the prosecution and investigative team forget this case."

The jury also found the crime was one of particular cruelty against a vulnerable victim; its ruling on those and other so-called aggravating factors will enable Judge Joseph Carter to sentence Schmidt to up to 30 years in prison, far harsher than the 12 years recommended in the state's sentencing guidelines.

"I'm pleased -- justice was done," said the father of the baby. The Star Tribune is not identifying the baby or her parents because the child is a rape victim.

Prosecutor Nicole Nee overcame hurdles to prevail, including the refusal by Schmidt's two daughters to testify. Nee suggested to jurors that the assault happened when Schmidt's wife took other children to a park, leaving him alone with the baby in the Schmidt home on April 24.

The girl's paternal grandparents spoke of their hope that the girl, who has recovered after reconstructive surgery internally and externally, will never learn what happened to her. Doctors told them she was too young to remember it.

"Forgiveness is something we deal with, but not at the expense of justice," the grandfather said.

There were, he said, "no winners."

Flimsy alibi

Nee noted during closing arguments Tuesday that Schmidt's alibi changed once he learned how badly the girl was hurt.

Schmidt initially told police and physicians that his hangnail scratched the baby during diapering.

After he learned she had a long, deep tear through layers of muscle, he claimed she had been impaled on his thumb when he tried to stop her from rolling off a couch during diapering. He claimed he tripped while trying to catch her.

Two physicians testified the injuries could not have happened that way.

Reinhardt said jurors found Schmidt's testimony and timeline to be "full of holes."

Backstrom said this attack and another assault Schmidt carried out in Goodhue County in 1994, before he and his wife were married, on her 8-month-old son's genitals, had led authorities to move quickly to prosecute Schmidt.

A father of five, he's being held in the Dakota County jail until sentencing Nov. 8.

"We're going to seek the maximum penalty, which is 30 years in prison, with a 10-year conditional release after that prison term, during which he will be monitored closely by prison officials and not be allowed unsupervised contact with children," Backstrom said.

Schmidt, who was free on $100,000 bail with conditions during the trial, was taken into custody after the verdict.

He asked deputies to segregate him from other inmates.

Joy Powell • 952-882-9017

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