Updated: 08/29/2014 6:17 PM
Created: 08/29/2014 12:36 PM KSTP.com
By: Scott Theisen
Authorities say a Hibbing man has been charged in the 2012 death of his former girlfriend's 2-year-old daughter.
The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, Virginia police and the St. Louis County Attorney's office say 26-year-old Russell Shannon Johnson is in custody for the March 22, 2012, death of Caroline Shenze Marie Medicine-Chavez. The Mesabi Daily News reports bail was set at $500,000.
A criminal complaint filed in St. Louis County accuses Johnson of second-degree murder for the malicious punishment of the girl, which resulted in her death.
The St. Louis County County Medical Examiner said in his autopsy report that the girl died from "closed head trauma." However, the manner of her death remained under investigation.
According to initial police reports, officers were called to a Virginia, Minnesota, residence on a report of a 2-year-old girl who was unresponsive on March 21. An officer found the girl gasping for air in an upstairs bedroom. She was taken to a local hospital before being transported to a Duluth hospital, where she was pronounced dead.
Johnson told police he was in the girl's bedroom when she walked around a fan and appeared to lose her balance and slithered down a wall, hitting her head on the wall as she fell to the floor.
Authorities say the girl's mother told police her daughter needed to be taken to the hospital by ambulance less than three weeks earlier. She told police Johnson went upstairs to get the girl for breakfast and when he came back downstairs he told her the girl had fallen, hit her head and was unconscious.
The girl's mother also told police that in December she returned home from work and found a bump on her daughter's head. Johnson told her the girl fell off a table, authorities said.
About a month ago, authorities got a break in the case when witnesses came forward and told investigators about statements Johnson allegedly made about the girl's death. Parts of one of the conversations were recorded and turned over to Virginia police.
Using the reports from the more than two years of investigation and the opinion offered by child abuse expert who assisted in the case, the medical examiner determined the manner of death was homicide.
Johnson's public defender says his client maintains his innocence. Johnson is due back in court September 15.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.