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Investigation continues in death of Duluth child

About 500 pieces of evidence, including 30 body camera videos from the Duluth Police Department, have been turned over to attorneys in the case of a Duluth man accused of suffocating his 14-month-old daughter to death, a prosecutor said Thursday.

The case against Christopher Dennis Peterson, however, is not yet ready to proceed, as attorneys still await the final reports of the medical examiner and a wrap-up of the investigation by police.

Peterson, 29, appeared in State District Court in Duluth before Judge Eric Hylden on Thursday. Peterson agreed to waive his 28-day window for an omnibus hearing, in which he could challenge evidentiary, procedural or constitutional issues. His next court date was scheduled for Oct. 13 at 3 p.m.

Peterson is charged with second-degree murder in the July 5 incident, in which he is accused of suffocating Layna Rose Peterson in an attempt to get her to stop crying. Duluth defense attorney Mikkel Long has been appointed to represent him as a public defender.

Assistant St. Louis County Attorney Jessica Fralich said that convening a grand jury to consider first-degree murder charges against Peterson still has not been ruled out.

“The investigation is still being wrapped up,” she said outside the courtroom. “Once that is complete and we’ve received all the reports, we’ll make a determination on a grand jury.”

Fralich also has filed notices that she intends to introduce evidence of Peterson’s criminal history, including a domestic abuse conviction, and other allegations that he abused his children.

Layna Peterson was under review by the county’s Child Protection Services in the months  leading up to her death. Public records and interviews with family indicate there was ongoing turmoil in the house shared by Peterson, his girlfriend and five children.

The 14-month-old died on the night of July 5, according to the medical examiner. The girl’s mother called 911 the next morning to report that the child was unresponsive.

Christopher Peterson allegedly confessed to police that he accidentally suffocated the girl by placing his hand over her mouth and pinching her nose to get her to stop crying. Peterson said he had done the same in the past, but she always came to, according to the complaint.

Peterson is being held at the St. Louis County Jail on $500,000 bail.