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Prosecution rests in Marsden murder trial

WARREN, Minn. -- The prosecution rested its case Monday in the murder trial of Damien Marsden following testimony from an expert witness that Marsden's son did not die from injuries he suffered from falling off a bed.

Damien L Marsden
Damien L Marsden

WARREN, Minn. -- The prosecution rested its case Monday in the murder trial of Damien Marsden following testimony from an expert witness that Marsden's son did not die from injuries he suffered from falling off a bed.

Dr. Arne Graff also testified that 4-month-old Rylin Marsden died of injuries following a non-accidental head trauma, which likely occurred just before he started showing symptoms on the afternoon of Aug. 2, 2009.

Damien Marsden, 33, of Grygla, Minn., is facing three counts of second-degree murder in state District Court in his son's death.

Marsden called 911 on the afternoon of Aug. 2, and told the dispatcher that his son was not breathing.

The call was made just minutes after the boy's mother, Megan Niemi, returned from a half-hour shopping trip, leaving Rylin Marsden alone with his father.


First responders testified Monday that they arrived at Marsden's home in Grygla to find Rylin Marsden pale, breathing faintly and virtually motionless as he was being held in his mother's arms.

The responders also testified to seeing the boy vomit a white substance.

On Aug. 8, 2009, Rylin Marsden died at MeritCare Hospital in Fargo of injuries related to head trauma.

Expert testimony

Graff, a child abuse pediatrics specialist from Sanford Health in Fargo, maintained that the condition responders found Rylin Marsden in was an immediate response to trauma, not a reaction to an earlier fall or accident.

He said the spreading of blood in Rylin Marsden's head was consistent with a rotational injury or shaking, not just an impact injury.

Graff said during an examination of the child, he noticed retinal hemorrhage and said the results of a CT scan showed brain bleeding, both consistent with having his head shaken.

Graff said there was nothing in Marsden's medical or family history that would have complicated a different type of injury, causing it to become deadly. There were only two incidents reported by Rylin Marsden's parents that may have caused any head trauma.


First was a reported fall off a bed on Aug. 1. In court, Graff repeated an account Marsden told him in an interview following Rylin Marsden's hospitalization.

Around 5 p.m., Marsden said he took a nap. Between 6 and 7 p.m., he woke up to hear his son crying. Marsden found him face down on the ground, after apparently falling out of bed.

Marsden told Graff that Rylin Marsden appeared to be back to normal shortly after the fall, which was reported to be just more than two feet onto a carpeted floor. Niemi said that her son tipped over while sitting up on the morning he was hospitalized.

Graff said he believed neither of those incidents would have caused the internal bleeding in his head that medical personnel witnessed after Rylin Marsden was hospitalized.

Graff went into detail on different types of hematomas and the normal difference in bleeding between a rotational and impact injury.

Defense attorney Peter B. Wold challenged Graff on the possibility Rylin Marsden suffered a re-bleed of an injury that occurred earlier.

Graff generally dismissed the notion but did admit there hadn't been a lot of studies performed in the area, agreeing it was an "emerging field."

There also was testimony on the term "shaken baby syndrome," which Graff said he only uses to describe what is now referred to as "non-accidental head trauma."


Wold also pointed out there was no bruising to Rylin's arms or abdomen that may have been consistent with shaking. Graff did testify to seeing a bruise on Rylin's right ear during the examination.

Motions and rulings

Lead prosecutor Matthew Glen Frank of the state attorney general's office in St. Paul had no comment Monday on the proceedings up to that point. Minneapolis-based attorney Wold also refused to comment other than to say the defense's witness list includes an expert expected to refute some of Graff's claims.

Also on Monday, Wold filed a motion to dismiss the final two murder charges -- second-degree murder while committing child neglect and second-degree murder while committing child engenderment.

Judge Jeffrey Scott Remick said he would issue a ruling this morning on the motion.

Remick also ruled that Graff would be able to be present in court when defense experts testify in order to potentially rebut their testimony, but not when "lay witnesses" testify.

The jury of seven women and five men is scheduled to reconvene today at 9:30 a.m. with the defense scheduled to present its case.

Reach Bieri at (701) 780-1118; (800) 477-6572, ext. 118; or send email to cbieri@gfherald.com .

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