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Bail set at $500,000 for Duluth man accused of suffocating daughter

Christopher Dennis Peterson

Shackled, wearing an orange jumpsuit and standing in a separate room behind safety glass that looked out onto the courtroom, Christopher Peterson appeared in District Court in Duluth Thursday on charges he suffocated to death his 14-month-old daughter.

Peterson is accused of second-degree unintentional murder in the July 5 incident, which carries a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison.

Peterson was arrested by Duluth police in a downtown alley and charged with felony murder Wednesday.

Peterson appeared nervous in court, misspelling his name and looking only at the judge.

“C-h-i-r-s-t-o-p-h-e-r,” the 29-year-old said, with Judge H. Peter Albrecht correcting the spelling.

The St. Louis County prosecutor, Jessica Fralich, called Peterson a “prior escapee,” for running from offenses in Wisconsin in 2006 and 2009. She argued that he was both a flight risk and a threat to the community for a history of offenses such as automobile theft, credit card fraud and the assault on the mother of his children, for which he is currently serving probation. She called his criminal index score, “a six – tops on the charts.”

“His ties to the area are sparse,” Fralich said, while arguing for and receiving a $500,000 bail ruling from the judge.

When asked by the judge to provide his address, Peterson said, “I’m homeless,” before giving his parents’ address in Hibbing, Minn., for the purpose of mail correspondence with the court.

Peterson was represented by a temporary public defender, who said his client and parents were considering hiring outside counsel. The judge also supplied Peterson with an application for a permanent public defender.

Peterson allegedly suffocated to death his 14-month-old daughter in an attempt to get her to stop crying at bedtime so he could smoke marijuana, according to criminal filings in the case.

“It’s a very tragic situation,” Deputy Police Chief Ann Clancey said at a news conference Wednesday after the arrest. “The community is not at risk and steps have been taken to ensure safety of this family.”

Police were called to a residence on the 700 block of North Ninth Avenue East at around noon on July 6, where they found an infant girl who was unresponsive and not breathing. Officers and responding medical staff determined that the infant was already deceased before their arrival.

The St. Louis County Medical Examiner’s Office later found the manner of death was homicide by suffocation, ruling out any natural cause of death. Through their investigation, police said they found Peterson was responsible for the girl’s death.

According to the criminal complaint:

Peterson allegedly told police that he frequently became frustrated with the infant’s crying, and in order to stop her from fussing he would suffocate her by placing his hand over her mouth and pinching her nostrils closed until she stopped. He told police he had done it five or six times in the past and had previously worried that he “had done something to her.”

He would check her, he told police, to make sure she was still breathing. He demonstrated exactly how he did this to the responding officers. The complaint said he “did so until she stopped struggling and until he felt her tense up.” Peterson told police that after he laid the child down to sleep on the night of her death, he went downstairs to smoke marijuana.

Police interviewed both of the girl’s parents at the home on July 6, who said Peterson had put the child to bed about on July 5. Reports from the medical examiner place the time of death at about 9 p.m.

The mother of the child is not a suspect at this time, but she remains under investigation, Clancey said at the news conference.

Christopher Peterson has a lengthy criminal history going back to 2002, according to an online check of Minnesota court records. He was convicted earlier this year for domestic assault and also has pleaded guilty to charges of motor vehicle theft, financial transaction fraud, drug possession and mistreatment of animals. 


Duluth man accused of causing suffocation death of 14-month-old daughter