Updated: June 21, 2021 06:38 PM
Created: June 21, 2021 09:54 AM
Two people charged in connection to an 8-year-old Sherburne County girl's death last year pleaded guilty to second-degree murder on Monday.
In court, Brett Jason Hallow and Sarah Kay Hallow admitted to beating and starving Autumn Hallow in the days and weeks before she ultimately died in the couple's apartment on 172nd Avenue Northwest in Elk River.
The girl's father and stepmother had been charged with second-degree murder and first-degree manslaughter, but with new evidence, including security camera video from inside the family's home, prosecutors said they were prepared to upgrade the charges to first-degree murder prior to the guilty pleas.
In addition to pleading guilty to second-degree murder, the two pleaded guilty to several new charges related to the abuse of Autumn's brother and another child in the home as early as 2019.
As part of these pleas, the two are each facing 40 years in prison. They will be formally sentenced in September.
Elk River officers were called to their apartment on the night of Aug. 13, 2020, for a medical emergency. When they arrived, they found Autumn not breathing. Attempts to revive her weren't successful, and she was pronounced dead at the scene.
Brett and Sarah Hallow were arrested the following night.
In court on Monday, a tearful Sarah Hallow described how she and Brett Hallow both assaulted Autumn in the bathroom where she had been forced to stay in the days before she died.
The couple also admitted to largely denying the girl food and water. Prosecutors said Autumn weighed 33 pounds at the time of her death.
Autumn's mother, Kelsey Kruse, spoke with 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS after the plea hearings.
"I feel like them taking a plea deal for less time was kind of the coward's way out, but also I liked that they were admitting some guilty and I knew part of what happened at least," Kruse said.
Three months after her daughter’s death, Kruse spoke publicly for the first time with hopes of bringing about changes to protect other children.
In her first on-camera interview with 5 INVESTIGATES, Kruse described what she called a "failure of the system" prior to Autumn’s death. Despite her pleas for help to Elk River police and county child protection services, Kruse said she was unable to see her daughter in the six months before she died.
Kruse said despite a court-ordered 50-50 parenting time agreement, Autumn’s father stopped sharing custody. She said she spent months asking questions and raising concerns about her daughter’s safety.
As 5 INVESTIGATES first reported, Elk River police had been called to the Hallow’s apartment 31 times since 2018. At least half of those calls were made in 2020 alone.
In May, attorneys for Kruse filed a federal lawsuit against Sherburne County Child Protection, Elk River Police and others for failing to do more to intervene. The suit is seeking $30 million.
Kruse said she would also like to see a new law in Autumn’s name, but child welfare experts say it is not yet clear what kind of legislation it would take to prevent a similar tragedy from happening to another child. Last year, Kruse started a campaign among friends and followers to carry out acts of kindness in memory of Autumn.
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