Father accepts plea deal in injured baby case

Plea resolves case which had resulted in hung jury

By Laura McVicker, Columbian staff writer

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After a jury voted 11-1 to acquit him, resulting in a mistrial, a Vancouver man accused of assaulting his infant daughter pleaded guilty Friday to a lesser charge.

Ryan B. Kannegaard, 26, entered a Newton plea — a type of guilty plea that admits only that the state could prove its case — to third-degree criminal mistreatment, a gross misdemeanor.

He had earlier been tried on a charge of first-degree assault of a child, a Class A felony.

Judge John Wulle sentenced him to three months of jail work release, meaning he can go to work during the day but will spend his nights in jail.

Wulle, who presided at his six-day trial in July, told Kannegaard that he agreed with the majority of jurors who voted to acquit him. In criminal cases, all jurors must agree that the prosecution proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Because the jurors did not reach a unanimous opinion, Wulle ordered a mistrial. The prosecutor’s office subsequently decided to continue to pursue the case.

“From what I heard in this courtroom, I was not convinced beyond a reasonable doubt and I would have acquitted you,” Wulle said.

But the judge said he was left scratching his head because Kannegaard pleaded guilty to the lesser charge. So he decided on a middle-range sentence between the prosecution’s request of six months in jail and the defense’s request of no jail time.

Defense attorney David McDonald said his client still maintains his innocence, but agreed to the plea deal simply to put the case behind him. The resolution means Kannegaard is eligible to ask a family court judge for the right to see his daughter again.

“I just want to see my family and be done with this,” a tearful Kannegaard told the judge.

Kannegaard will be on community supervision for two years. Had he been convicted at trial of first-degree assault of a child, he would have faced nine years in prison.

The charges related to an incident the evening of Nov. 2, 2009, when Kannegaard was watching his 5-month-old daughter, Phoenix. He told police that he had been cooking dinner when he heard a scream and discovered that his older daughter, 3, had jumped on Phoenix. She had been lying on a bean-bag chair.

He said he tried to feed her and put her to bed, jurors heard at trial. When his wife arrived home, she checked on the baby, who seemed fine. But later, Phoenix was heard making a wheezing sound, so she took her to the hospital.

Doctors concluded the baby had suffered a perforated bowel and that her injuries seemed suspicious. The prosecution developed a theory that Kannegaard had snapped from financial and marital stress and assaulted Phoenix.

The defense, however, pointed out there was no evidence of assault other than the injuries. Also, a doctor had testified that Kannegaard’s story was plausible. Kannegaard, an honorably discharged U.S. Marine, also offered a half-dozen character witnesses.

This month, four jurors sent a letter to Clark County Prosecutor Tony Golik, saying they thought it was an injustice that his office would proceed further with the case. The letter was forwarded to the judge.

In response to that letter, Chief Criminal Deputy Prosecutor Scott Jackson said Friday that he had heard an opposing viewpoint from the jury foreman. Jackson said he had lunch with the foreman, who told him that the majority of jurors thought Kannegaard committed the assault but that the state hadn’t proved its case.

“I believe, personally, that I let the jury down,” Jackson said.

Wulle said the jury foreman had expressed a different opinion to him following trial. The defense attorney then chimed in, saying he also had heard differently. He said that he recalled a number of jurors shaking Kannegaard’s hand and saying they thought he was innocent.

About the jury’s response to the case, McDonald said: “In all my time, I’ve never seen a juror write to the court about that.”

“It’s a first for me,” Wulle agreed.

Laura McVicker: www.twitter.com/col_courts; www.facebook.com/reportermcvicker; laura.mcvicker@columbian.com; 360-735-4516.