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North Dakota man accused of assaulting, partially paralyzing 2-year-old goes to trial

DEVILS LAKE—A trial has begun for a Lankin, N.D., man accused of assaulting and partially paralyzing a 2-year-old child.

Jury selection began Tuesday in Ramsey County District Court for Austin Lee Thorsteinson, 25, who was charged in December 2016 with child neglect or abuse, a Class A felony. He faces up to 20 years in prison.

The charge stems from a late November 2016 incident in which he allegedly admitted to striking a child's head against a stereo speaker and metal table, according to court documents. The child was taken to the Sanford Children's Hospital in Fargo to be treated for a severe head injury. Doctors said the child needed emergency surgery to relieve pressure from his brain, had two spots of bleeding on his brain, had other injuries on his back and side and showed signs of paralysis on his left side.

The trial is scheduled through Thursday. Prosecutors have a list of more than a dozen witnesses to call, including rebuttal character witnesses and medical experts, one which is expected to testify on how the child received his injuries. The prosecution also plans to present evidence of alleged prior acts of domestic violence in September 2016 by Thorsteinson, a move to which the defense objected.

North Dakota court records do not show domestic violence charges have ever been brought against Thorsteinson.

The defense has submitted a list of almost 30 character witnesses.

The trial will continue at 9 a.m. Wednesday at the Ramsey County Courthouse in Devils Lake.

April Baumgarten

April Baumgarten joined the Grand Forks Herald May 19, 2015, and covers crime and education. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, where her family raises registered Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at Jamestown (N.D.) College, now known as University of Jamestown. During her time at the college, she worked as a reporter and editor-in-chief for the university's newspaper, The Collegian. Baumgarten previously worked for The Dickinson Press as a city government and energy reporter in 2011 before becoming the editor of the Hazen Star and Center Republican. She then returned to The Press as a news editor, where she helped lead an award-winning newsroom in recording the historical oil boom.

Have a story idea? Contact Baumgarten at 701-780-1248.

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