The 7-month-old girl had two burst blood vessels in her eye when she was dropped off at a day-care center in March.
The center’s staff noticed more injuries when she was dropped off over the next few days at the center in the Minneapolis suburbs: bruises and scratches on the baby’s cheek the next day, and more on her back the following day.
When the staff asked the baby’s caretaker — the live-in boyfriend of the girl’s mother — about the injuries, he said the child was injured at home, according to a statement of probable cause.
The next morning, on March 24, the man, Chris McMorris, didn’t bring the child to day care.
Instead, he called 911.
When emergency responders arrived at a home in Brooklyn Park, Minn., a few miles northwest of Minneapolis, they saw McMorris sitting on a bed as he talked on the phone.
The 7-month-old was lying on the floor, motionless.
She was pronounced dead less than two hours later.
Details in the statement of probable cause indicate that the infant died a painful death. She had 11 rib fractures, plus bruises on her scalp, abdomen, back and buttocks. Her lacerated liver bled into her abdominal cavity, the document says.
Based on her injuries, authorities said she was struck in the abdomen multiple times. They ruled her death a homicide.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman told The Washington Post that McMorris killed the child after finding out he wasn’t her biological father. A paternity test confirmed as much just three days before the child was killed.
McMorris, 24, was charged last week with two counts of second-degree murder, punishable by up to 30 years in prison.
“I’ve been in this business for 18 years as a prosecutor,” Freeman told The Post. “If you don’t get upset by cases like this, you should get out of the business.”
When police arrived at the home in March, McMorris was unable to explain why the baby had bruises or why she suddenly stopped breathing, according to the statement of probable cause. He only said that the child was vomiting a white substance.
McMorris’s attorney, Ira Whitlock, told The Post that his client is innocent and that there were inconsistencies in the accusations against him.
The child’s mother, Whitlock said, told investigators that she didn’t notice the bruises and scratches that the day-care workers had spotted. According to the probable-cause statement, the mother was unable to explain why her daughter had several injuries. She said the child had a cold but was otherwise healthy and was acting normally — playing, crawling and eating — the night before she was found dead.
“Just because a person ends up being the last person with the baby when the baby dies doesn’t mean that person caused the injuries to the baby,” Whitlock said. “Mr. McMorris was with the baby, but it doesn’t mean he inflicted the injuries to the child.”
Neither the mother nor the infant is named in the charging documents. The mother was living with McMorris and another child, a 12-year-old relative.
McMorris is in custody in the Hennepin County Jail and is scheduled for a court hearing on Sept. 22. His total bail has been set at $1.5 million.
The 7-month-old’s death occurred in the same county where Cory Morris stands accused of killing his 4-month-old daughter, Emersyn.
Morris punched the infant about 15 times to quiet her down, authorities said. Morris was charged with second-degree murder last week — just days before McMorris was charged with the same crime.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, state and local child protective services in 2012 received about 3.4 million reports of children being abused or neglected. The majority of them, 78 percent, were victims of neglect and 18 percent suffered physical abuse, according to the CDC.
About 80 percent of the perpetrators were parents, the CDC said; 4 percent of perpetrators were the parents’ unmarried partners.
Freeman, the prosecutor, said McMorris was not charged immediately after the child was found dead because investigators had to wait for autopsy results. It’s too soon to say whether the child’s mother will face any charges, he said.
Prosecutors will decide within six weeks whether the case meets the criteria for premeditated murder and whether it should be taken to a grand jury, Freeman said. In Minnesota, a person cannot be charged with first-degree premeditated murder — punishable by life without parole — without a grand jury indictment.