Mother pleads guilty to manslaughter in toddler's death

  • Article by: PAT PHEIFER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 9, 2012 - 11:10 PM

But the judge said she needs more information before accepting a plea agreement, which calls for six months to a year in jail.

Nicholas Miller for OHMANN0310

Melissa L. Ohmann let her 17-month-old son linger with a broken back, broken ribs and bleeding brain for four days without seeking medical care for him after the boy's stepfather mortally injured him back in June 2009.

On Friday, Ohmann (formerly Hokanson) sat between her attorneys, with her mother's arm draped around her shoulders as she told Dakota County District Judge Erica MacDonald that, yes, she understood the implications of pleading guilty to second-degree manslaughter.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys told the judge that they had reached an agreement in which Ohmann, 20, would plead guilty to manslaughter. In exchange, the agreement called for her to be sentenced to six months to a year in jail. The four-year sentence called for by state sentencing guidelines would be stayed provided that the defendant complies with certain terms and conditions.

MacDonald said she needed more information before accepting the plea agreement. She ordered that a pre-sentence investigation be done and told the attorneys they could submit memorandums in support of the agreement before the sentencing hearing June 12.

Ohmann's former husband, Tylar Hokanson, 25, was convicted in November 2010 of first- and second-degree murder in the death of Nicholas Miller. He is serving life in prison, with the possibility of parole after 30 years.

According to court documents, the fatal injuries to the toddler came on the evening of June 19, 2009. Melissa Ohmann testified at Tylar Hokanson's trial that she bathed Nick and didn't see any bruises. She handed him to Hokanson, who carried him upstairs. About 8 p.m., Ohmann said, she heard a "terror scream" from Nick. She found him looking scared, puzzled and upset. Hokanson claimed that he just "touched" the boy.

Under questioning from her attorney, Christopher Lehmann on Friday, Ohmann agreed that the boy had a broken back and bleeding on the brain. He died because fluid from his spine seeped into his lungs and he stopped breathing.

Other questions Friday revealed that Nick wasn't eating, wasn't walking, seemed uncomfortable and in pain and didn't even want his favorite toys in the intervening days.

Ohmann agreed that nothing prevented her from taking him to the doctor. She agreed that a doctor hired by the defense came to the same conclusion as the coroner: Nick could have survived his injuries if he'd been taken to a hospital.

Nick died on June 23, 2009, as Hokanson and another relative tried to revive him on a picnic table at Hokanson's mother's home in Maiden Rock, Wis. An ambulance was on its way.

Ohmann has two other children, including one with Hokanson. She does not have custody of either of them.

Phil Prokopowicz, chief deputy county attorney, said his office stands behind the plea agreement.

"She did not commit the abuse; she did not observe the abuse being committed," he said. "Although it did become obvious within a day or two that he was suffering ... and she failed to get the necessary medical care that a reasonable person would.

"So, in light of that, in light of her age, in light of the fact that she has no criminal history and she's extremely remorseful ... we believe the negotiated settlement is appropriate," Prokopowicz said. "She will be held accountable. She will be serving some time, six months to a year in the county jail.

"When you look at all the facts and circumstances of the case, we believe that justice will be served."

Pat Pheifer • 952-746-3284

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