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Dave Roepke, Published July 02 2010

Man who killed baby in Wheaton gets 20 years in prison

A man who crushed the skull of a 14-month-old girl while he was trying to beat up her father in a church in Wheaton, Minn., was sentenced on Thursday to a 20-year stint in prison.

Judge Gerald Seibel said in the sentencing hearing in Traverse County (Minn.) District Court that the death of the toddler, caused by an errant swing of a baseball bat by David Eric Collins, was the most tragic case over which he’s presided, Traverse County Attorney Matt Franzese said.

Franzese said Seibel also encouraged Collins to use his time behind bars to preach against violence.

“Hopefully, he can change at least one person’s heart and keep them from going down the same road he did,” the prosecutor recalled Seibel saying.

Collins accidentally hit Aundrea Brownlow as he attacked her father, Claude Hankins, with a bat on Sept. 3, 2009, in Thy Kingdom Come church in Wheaton.

The two men had butted heads over a $20 debt and a used washer and dryer, an argument that escalated to a fistfight behind the church. Hankins got the best of the fight, leaving his fellow Thy Kingdom Come member with swollen and blackened eyes. Returning to the church after the first fight, Collins came swinging at Hankins without noticing that Brownlow was beside him.

Collins, 51, was acquitted by Seibel on a charge of intentional murder in a bench trial in May after admitting he was guilty of unintentional murder. If he had been convicted of intentional murder, he faced up to 40 years in prison under sentencing guidelines.

Franzese said with time served and a good record in prison, Collins will likely serve about 12½ years. He said he’s satisfied with the sentence, though he had sought far more time by prosecuting Collins on the intentional murder count.

“It’s always hard to quantify a proper sentence when a little child is dead,” Franzese said.

He said the death struck him in a personal manner because his own son was born five days after Brownlow in the same hospital in Alexandria, Minn.

“That’s obviously something I’ve thought a lot about,” Franzese said.

Seibel, an 8th District judge since 1992, also gave Collins 45 months for second-degree assault, but he will serve that at the same time as the longer term.

Franzese said attorneys for Collins sought a 12 1/2-year sentence. Carter Greiner, the lead defense attorney, didn’t return a phone message seeking comment Thursday.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Roepke at (701) 241-5535

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