Murder charge sought in Wheaton, Minn., bat attack
Murder charges were filed Tuesday against the man accused of swinging a baseball bat in a church in Wheaton, Minn., killing a 14-month-old girl with a blow meant for her father.
David Eric Collins faces two counts each of second-degree murder and second-degree attempted murder, as well as a felony charge of second-degree assault.
The charges include two counts of both murder and attempted murder because the attack during a prayer service at Thy Kingdom Come World Ministry on Thursday could be viewed as intentional or not, and it is a different charge when the crime is intended, said Matt Franzese, Traverse County Attorney.
"As a prosecutor, I like to 'kitchen sink' charges so that everybody knows up front what we're trying to do," he said.
Either way, the murder charges can carry a 40-year prison term, with 20 years for the attempted murder and 10 years for assault.
Franzese said he thinks Collins did mean to try to kill Claude Hankins when he allegedly swung at the fellow Thy Kingdom member with an overhead chop-style motion.
"If you're intending to hurt somebody, you swing at their shoulders down to their kneecaps," Franzese said. "If you're intending to hit somebody else in the head, what else do you think is going to happen?"
Police believe Collins hit Hankins' daughter Aundrea Brownlow above her right ear. An autopsy said a traumatic head injury consistent with injuries caused by a baseball bat was the cause of death, court records state.
Court documents state:
The fight began with a dispute about $20 that Hankins owed Collins as well as a used washer and dryer that the church wanted Collins to give to Hankins' family.
By the time that Hankins and Collins met outside the church at about 6:30 p.m., they'd already talked on the phone and met for a heated exchange in person earlier in the day. The pair fought outside the church, landing punches and wrestling before each picked up a rock they didn't throw.
Collins was bested in the fight and left vowing, "I'll get my $20 one way or another." He also used a racial epithet to threaten Hankins, who is black.
When Collins returned to the church with a baseball bat, Brownlow - the toddler who later died at a Fargo hospital - was against the back wall. She was put there because the attacker had come to the front door before, and Hankins figured the back was safer.
Hankins dodged the first blow before picking up a metal chair to use as a shield. Collins, who later told investigators he "was in a rage" at the time, left the scene when witnesses noticed Brownlow was hit.
Collins was later found at a bar in Brookings, S.D., by the church's founder and pastor, the Rev. Danny Barnes, who told police the 50-year-old confessed but insisted he didn't know the child was present.
Also charged Tuesday in connection with the death was Darryl Glenn Kennedy, who faces one count of second-degree assault. In addition to loaning the bat to Collins, Kennedy arrived at the church shortly after Brownlow was taken to the hospital and swung a 2-by-4 board at Hankins, court records state.
The suspects were being held in the jail in Traverse County, Collins on conditional bail of $750,000 and Kennedy on conditional bail of $100,000.
Court officials were still seeking public defenders for the men Tuesday afternoon. The search could be difficult, Franzese said, as four area defense attorneys may decline because they are representing defendants in an alleged kidnapping and burglary in nearby Big Stone County.
In that case, which is still pending, Barnes and Kennedy pleaded not guilty to four felonies, and other church members are also charged. Barnes has denied it was a kidnapping.