Before 4-year-old Key’ontay Miller Peterson died on June 11 at his home in Burnsville, William A. Warr, the man accused of killing him, had been convicted twice of felony domestic assault, once in 2010 and again in 2012.
Both times, judges in Hennepin County gave him stayed prison sentences, credit for the jail time he’d served and probation.
A Dakota County grand jury handed up an indictment late last week charging Warr, 26, with eight counts of first- and second-degree murder in Key’ontay’s death.
The charges are three counts of first-degree murder that “require proof of a past pattern of child abuse and the victim’s death being caused under circumstances manifesting in extreme indifference to human life”; one count of first-degree murder that requires proof of a pattern of domestic abuse, and four counts of second-degree murder.
The indictment was made public Thursday after Warr’s first court appearance on the murder charges.
County Attorney Jim Backstrom said Warr had an ongoing relationship with Key’ontay’s mother despite an order for protection prohibiting him from having contact with her, Key’ontay or his 2-year-old brother.
Warr was sent to prison July 17, 36 days after Key’ontay’s death, after pleading guilty to violating that order for protection and several other charges stemming from his attempts to flee the Burnsville townhouse complex where the boy died.
Advocates for battered women had no answers Thursday when asked why someone with two felony domestic assault convictions wouldn’t be sent to prison .
“That’s the question of the day,” said Ann Sheridan, director of violence prevention and intervention at 360 Communities in Dakota County. “Obviously, we need harsher punishment for offenders.”
Backstrom, too, was frustrated.
“Everyone involved in our system would hope that abuse could be identified before tragedies like this occur,” he said. “Unfortunately, that didn’t happen here.
“We need to continue to … provide support to victims in these cases to encourage them to come forward and report these incidents. It’s a challenge, I’ll tell you. These cases are extremely challenging.”
According to court documents and a news release from the county attorney’s office, Burnsville police and paramedics went to the townhouse on Horizon Heights Road, just off Hwy. 13, on June 11 on a report that a 4-year-old boy was not breathing. They found Key’ontay lying dead on his bedroom floor. The victim’s mother, his brother and his 8-month-old sister were home.
Warr was the father of the 8-month-old but not of Key’ontay or his brother.
As officers pulled into the parking lot, a vehicle trying to leave the lot hit a garage. An officer talked to the driver, who said the 4-year-old was his stepson and he needed to get to the hospital. When the officer asked for the keys to the vehicle, the driver fled on foot. He was arrested nearby.
The Hennepin County medical examiner’s office found that Key’ontay died from blunt force injuries to his chest and abdomen. He had bruises on his head, face, arms, chest and back and had eight broken ribs, which occurred on at least two occasions.
Key’ontay’s mother told police that the boy had been complaining of stomach pain and flulike symptoms since June 6. She said he stopped breathing as she was giving him a bath to bring down his fever.
Warr later admitted to police that he had physically disciplined Key’ontay but denied that he had killed the boy.
The investigation found that Key’ontay told a day-care worker in February 2012 and his mother in May 2013 that Warr had “whooped” him, causing visible injuries.
Sheridan said she and other advocates “hope that if people have any questions about their relationship, any question at all, they just call and talk to an advocate. It’s confidential. They don’t even have to say their name.”