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Expert will be allowed to testify in child death case

CHAMBERLAIN -- A state medical examiner will be allowed to testify that the injuries suffered by a 4-year-old child allegedly beaten to death by one of his caretakers last year were the result of abuse.

Attorneys for 23-year-old Donika Gonzales, who is charged with the boy’s death, had sought to restrict testimony from Kenneth Snell, the state medical examiner who performed the 4-year-old victim’s autopsy and an expert witness for the prosecution.

Attorneys on boths sides of the case appeared Friday before Judge Bruce Anderson at the Brule County Courthouse in Chamberlain to make arguments at a hearing in advance of Gonzales’ trial, which is scheduled for April.

Gonzales is accused of beating the young boy to death because he wet his pants. She is not the boy’s mother, but was taking care of him at the time of the alleged incident.

Gonzales has pleaded not guilty to multiple charges including second-degree murder, which carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison upon conviction.

Among Snell’s claims is that the 4-year-old’s cause of death was from blunt force trauma to the abdomen due to abuse. Doug Papendick, one of Gonzales’ attorneys, asked Anderson to limit Snell’s testimony so the jury does not hear the phrase “due to abuse.”

“We’re contending there could have been a number of factors or incidents that played out and it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s child abuse,” Papendick said.

Assistant Attorney General Bob Mayer, who is prosecuting the case with Buffalo County State’s Attorney David Natvig, said Papendick’s claims weren’t sufficient to restrict Snell’s testimony.

“All of Mr. Papendick’s arguments go to the weight of the evidence, not the admissibility of the evidence,” Mayer said

Anderson denied the defense’s request to restrict Snell’s testimony, reasoning that Snell is well qualified to be an expert witness and regularly determines causes of death in the course of his work.

“This is his forte,” Anderson said. “This is what he does.”

Anderson also denied two similar requests by the defense to restrict testimony from the prosecution’s expert witnesses.