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Interview led to false confession, Bruns says

Adam Bruns, 24, of Gregory, walks into the Gregory County Courthouse on Tuesday in Burke. (Jake Shama/Republic)

BURKE — More than two years ago, Adam Bruns believed he was responsible for the death of his 3-month-old son.

Bruns, 24, of Gregory, took the stand Tuesday for the second time to say he had no intention of hurting his son, Levi, and that statement he allegedly made to law enforcement and others about shaking the boy were false.

"After what he told me, it made me feel guilty," Bruns said about a discussion with a South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation agent. "It's making me feel like it's my fault."

Bruns' attorney, Tim Rensch, asked him numerous questions about the DCI interview and quoted the agent several times, who allegedly told Bruns that shaking was the only way Levi could have sustained his injuries.

"The word 'shook' or 'shake' came from the DCI agent, not from me," Bruns said. "That's what he had me believing."

On Feb. 25, Levi spit up his food while sitting in a swing inside Bruns' Gregory home, a common occurrence for the boy, who suffered from medical issues throughout his life. Bruns said Levi started choking, so he quickly picked up the child, tipped him toward his shoulder and dipped him upside down to clear his airway.

A few minutes later, Levi's eyes rolled into the back of his head, and Bruns ran his son to a hospital about 1 1/2 blocks away. Levi died five days later, and investigators discovered brain swelling, retinal hemorrhaging and subdural hematomas, common symptoms in shaken-baby cases, according to court documents.

But Bruns and Rensch have argued Levi was a sick child, and the symptoms could have recurred periodically over the past few months.

Assistant Attorney General Robert Mayer also posed Bruns with some questions. He asked Bruns why he never denied shaking Levi, even when he was talking to his father and girlfriend, with whom he felt more comfortable than with law enforcement, since Bruns said all law enforcement officers are "intimidating."

During a phone conversation with Levi's mother, Bruns said he "must have just lost it for a second and (he) shook him," court documents state. By "lost it," Bruns said he meant he couldn't come up with an explanation for what happened.

Bruns made other statements over the phone like "I hurt our son," "I was getting so frustrated, so like I was mad at him, and I took it out on him," and, "He said I shouldn't have done that, but I did."

After the interview with DCI, Bruns began thinking he may have picked up Levi too fast or forgot part of the incident, but looking back now, Bruns said everything he did that day, from quickly picking up Levi to tipping him upside down to running him to the hospital, was out of love, and he said he would never hurt his son.

"I don't know how someone can get that frustrated to inflict pain — or whatever you want to call it, I've heard it called many different terms in this case — on someone so innocent and vulnerable," Bruns said in court Tuesday. "To this day, if I could trade spots with him, I would."

Attorneys are expected to give closing arguments Wednesday morning and the jury will be tasked with delivering a verdict.

The most serious charge, second-degree murder, is a Class B felony, punishable upon conviction by a mandatory sentence of life in prison and up to a $50,000 fine.

In the alternative, Bruns is charged with two counts of first-degree manslaughter, a Class C felony, punishable upon conviction by up to life in prison and a $50,000 fine.

Separately, Bruns is charged with aggravated assault, with an alternate count of child abuse. Both charges are Class 3 felonies, punishable upon conviction by up to 15 years in prison and a $30,000 fine.

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