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Exclusive Interview: Bemidji Woman Charged in Death of 6-Year-Old Cousin

Updated: 03/18/2014 5:24 AM
Created: 03/17/2014 12:57 PM KSTP.com
By: Megan Stewart

The cousin of a 6-year-old girl who froze to death overnight in Bemidji last month has been charged with second-degree manslaughter.

After being released from jail Monday, 22-year-old Rachel Stacey Downer talked exclusively with 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS about the final hours of Mercedes Mayfield's life. "I'm hurt right now. I'm going through a tough time right now, it's like my whole life has been taken away from me because of this," she said.

According to Bemidji police, Downer was arrested Friday in connection to the death of Mercedes, who was found by her mother on the front step of their apartment building around 6 a.m. on Feb 27, after temperatures had dipped to 27 degrees below zero with a wind chill of 40 below zero.

The criminal complaint said Mayfield's mother, Malika Peoples, had put Downer in charge of watching the little girl and her 3-year-old sibling while she was at work earlier that day.

Peoples told investigators she hurt her shoulder at work and had taken pain medication, the complaint said. Peoples asked Downer to watch the children that night so she could go to bed early.

The complaint said Peoples woke to her alarm clock around 6 a.m. the next morning and when she went to check on Mercedes, the child was not in her room. Peoples told investigators she saw Mercedes lying outside on the front step of the apartment complex, pulled her into the entryway and called emergency crews.

Crews said they found Mercedes to be stiff and frozen. They were unable to resuscitate her and she was pronounced dead on the scene, the complaint said.

Downer told investigators she had watched the two children, along with her two-year-old son, earlier that day. She told Peoples she was going to take Mercedes with her to stay at her apartment, but then changed her mind, the complaint said.

Downer told investigators Mercedes helped Downer carry her belongings to the car and closed the apartment door lightly so it would not latch when she left the building. Downer told investigators after the car was loaded up, she watched Mercedes enter the building and then drove away.

The investigation showed the four-apartment building was controlled by a security system and each residence had a call button by the outside door.

Downer faces 10 years in prison and/or a fine of $20,000 for the felony charge of neglect and endangerment of a child.

Booking photo of Rachel Downer.
Photo: Bemidji Police Department
KSTP photo

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