Murder charge added in Gann Valley child death caseDonika Rae Gonzales, 22 and pregnant, was in court Tuesday morning in Chamberlain for an initial appearance because of new charges filed against her in the death of a 4-year-old.
By: Chris Mueller, The Daily Republic
CHAMBERLAIN — A Gann Valley woman accused of beating a 4-year-old child to death because he wet his pants now faces a second-degree murder charge.
Donika Rae Gonzales, 22, was in court Tuesday morning in Chamberlain for an initial appearance because of new charges filed against her.
Gonzales is now charged with one count of second-degree murder, two alternative counts of first-degree manslaughter and one count of aggravated assault. Gonzales also faces a count of felony child abuse that she was first charged with after her arrest Feb. 22. The new charges are contained in an amended complaint filed prior to Gonzales’ hearing.
Shortly after 10 a.m., Gonzales was led out of Brule County Jail and across the street to the Brule County Courthouse in Chamberlain. After Gonzales met with her court-appointed attorneys, Donna Bucher and Randy Stiles, both of Mitchell, she was led into the courtroom shortly before 11 a.m. She was dressed in a striped jail uniform and a blue hooded sweatshirt with shackles around her ankles.
Buffalo County State’s Attorney David Natvig and Assistant Attorney General Bob Mayer are prosecuting the case.
Magistrate Judge Patrick Kiner explained Gonzales’ rights and advised her of the maximum punishments for each charge. Gonzales would face a mandatory life sentence if convicted of second-degree murder.
Gonzales has not yet entered a plea to any of the charges.
Gonzales asked for a preliminary hearing, which is a hearing at which a judge must determine there is probable cause a crime was committed. Gonzales’ preliminary hearing is set for April.
Kiner is retiring at the end of the week and will be replaced by newly appointed Magistrate Judge Gordon Swanson at Gonzales’ preliminary hearing.
Natvig requested Gonzales’ bond, currently set at $30,000 cash, be raised to $1 million because of the seriousness of the new charges.
Stiles asked the judge to keep Gonzales’ bond at its current level and to consider allowing her to post 10 percent to secure her release. Stiles also noted Gonzales is pregnant and has extended family willing to take care of her while her case is pending.
Kiner elected to keep Gonzales’ bond at $30,000, but chose not to allow her to make a 10 percent post. She remains in the Brule County Jail. If electronic monitoring becomes available, Gonzales’ attorneys can ask Judge Swanson to consider it as an option, Kiner said. Gonzales declined a request for comment following the hearing. An affidavit by state Division of Criminal Investigation Agent Tyler Neuharth recounts the alleged events that led to Gonzales’ arrest.
At approximately 4:41 p.m. Feb. 21, Buffalo County Sheriff Wayne Willman received a call from Tyler Naser, the affidavit says, who reported his son, Mason, was unresponsive and not breathing. Naser requested an ambulance be sent to his residence at 35029 222nd St. in rural Gann Valley.
Willman and a team of paramedics arrived at the address a short time later and learned Naser had taken Mason across the street to Naser’s father’s residence, where Willman found the child still unresponsive and not breathing, the affidavit says.
Mason was transported to Sanford Chamberlain Medical Center and was pronounced dead at 6:14 p.m., the affidavit says.
Hospital personnel noted multiple bruises, scratches and abrasions on the 4-yearold’s body, which appeared to be in different stages of healing, perhaps indicating the injuries occurred over an extended time period, the affidavit says. An autopsy has been ordered.
The affidavit says Naser is Gonzales’ live-in boyfriend. Gonzales is not the mother of the child, Willman said in a recent interview with The Daily Republic.
During initial interviews, the affidavit says Willman was told another child in the residence informed Gonzales that something was wrong with Mason. Gonzales then found Mason “slumped in a chair,” unresponsive but taking “shallow breaths.”
Later in the interview, Gonzales admitted to “kicking Mason, slapping him and then throwing him to the ground because he wet his pants,” the affidavit says. Gonzales told Willman she heard Mason’s head hit the floor after she threw him to the ground, and admitted she then stomped on his legs at least two more times.