The countdown: Top stories of 2012, No. 5-1

Published 10:12 am Tuesday, January 1, 2013

5. Dayton signs bill spurred by Dexter child-chainers

Gov. Mark Dayton signs legislation at the Capitol in April that tightened penalties imposed on child abusers. Sen. Dan Sparks and Rep. Jeanne Poppe, both DFL-Austin, helped pass the legislation and were in attendance.

On April 18, a piece of legislation that had become known as the child abuse bill sat freshly signed by Gov. Mark Dayton at the state capitol in St. Paul.

“It’s a great day,” Dayton announced as he passed out pens from the signing. “I’m proud to sign the bill.”

Dexter parents Brian and Charity Miller were convicted of chaining their then 5-year-old son to his crib and withholding food and bathroom access from him and his 8-year-old brother. They could only be charged with a gross misdemeanor because of the old law’s need for “substantial” bodily harm.

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The new bill, which local legislators penned and Mower County officials helped push through, rewords the “demonstrable bodily harm” clause to hold a midterm tier separate from “substantial bodily harm.” The new tier is punishable by two years in prison and up to a $4,000 fine, in contrast with five years in prison and a $10,000 fine for “substantial” bodily harm. Both are felonies.

Mower County Sheriff Terese Amazi said the bill would ensure any cases like the Millers’ would be treated as felonies in the future.

“Hopefully it doesn’t have to be used,” she added at the time.

Gail Loverink, of Mower County Human Services, asked Dayton for not one but two signing pens. Their recipients would be the two young Dexter boys whose child restraint case had brought the bill to life. Loverink said it was a form of closure for the children.

“They deserve to be able to move on,” Loverink said.

 —By Kevin Coss