A Duluth man will face a late-winter trial for allegedly causing the death of his then-fiance's 3-year-old son last year.
The Feb. 28 jury trial was scheduled as Jordan William Carter made an appearance Monday in State District Court on a charge of unintentional second-degree murder.
Carter, 31, reportedly told police that he found the boy, Cameron Joseph Gordon, unresponsive in their Lakeside home a day after he suffered an accidental fall down some stairs. But authorities allege that his account failed to explain the serious blunt-force injuries that proved fatal.
Carter, who is free on bond and did not speak during Monday's Zoom appearance, formally entered a not-guilty plea after a recent ruling from Judge Theresa Neo upholding law enforcement's search and seizure of electronic records in the course of the investigation.
Attorneys told the judge they expect the trial could last up to two weeks.
According to court documents, Cameron and his mother, Heather Bouchard, lived with Carter and his family on the 4800 block of East Colorado Street in the Lakeside neighborhood. Bouchard would work during the day, while Carter would care for the child.
Carter allegedly told police that he was in the kitchen preparing dinner Sept. 3 when he heard Cameron fall down the stairs. He said he went to check on the child and saw that he "bounced up like it's no big deal," according to a criminal complaint. He said Cameron later vomited on two occasions and didn't eat for the rest of the day, but otherwise seemed to be getting back to normal.
Cameron was "back to his normal routine" the following day, he reported, though authorities said he wrote to Bouchard in a text message at one point: "You gave birth to satan." The defendant told investigators he directed Cameron to go clean his room around 4:45 p.m. that day.
Carter, according to the complaint, said he went upstairs a short time later and discovered the child unresponsive and that he "shook, slapped and splashed water" on the child to try to get him to wake up.
PREVIOUSLY: Duluth man charged with second-degree murder
As Bouchard arrived home, Carter raced outside with Cameron and told her to get back in the car and drive to the hospital. The mother placed a 911 call en route, saying she was worried they would not make it in time to save the child.
Cameron was rushed to Essentia Health-St. Mary's Medical Center, where doctors suspected child abuse. He was quickly flown to Children's Minnesota hospital in Minneapolis.
Staff at Children's reported bruising to Cameron's head, forearm, hip, shins and back. He was said to be suffering from hemorrhaging in the brain and retinas, as well as internal abdominal injuries. A healing rib fracture was estimated to be several weeks old.
A doctor with the Midwest Children's Resource Center examined Cameron and "assessed that his injuries were not consistent with a stairway fall," the complaint states. She said a deep brain injury would be expected to occur shortly after the trauma was inflicted, not a "prolonged period" as described in Carter's account.
Cameron was removed from life support Sept. 6. The Hennepin County Medical Examiner's Office ruled his death a homicide by blunt-force trauma to the head and neck, concurring that the boy's injuries were inconsistent with a fall down the stairs.
Defense attorney Eric Olson in July filed a motion to suppress all evidence that was obtained by investigators from Carter's cellphone and Facebook account, arguing there was a lack of probable cause to support the search warrants, which he also described as overbroad.
But Neo, in a Sept. 15 order, concluded that Carter "freely and voluntarily" provided his phone to investigators during a follow-up interview days after Cameron's death and that the search warrants contained limits on the dates and nature of evidence to be seized. The searches were authorized at the time by Judge David Johnson.
Neo said the evidence was relevant to the investigation, as Carter told police he was using his phone on the day of the incident and revealed he had done a Google search for concussion symptoms.
"Defendant was unable to account for the time between 4:40 p.m. and 5:21 p.m., the time the incident may have occurred," the judge noted. "Defendant had stated he was using his phone on that day to communicate with others, and it was reasonable that law enforcement believed that it contained incriminating material."