Guilty verdicts in death of boy
Sherman Bernard Frederick was found guilty Wednesday of criminal vehicular homicide and careless driving for the death of 3-year-old Jack Larson.
Frederick was driving a minivan the afternoon of May 9, 2009, that struck and killed Jack after passing on the right a line of vehicles that had stopped on Crow Wing County Road 3 in Merrifield to let several children cross the road.
The jury — seven women and five men — went into deliberation about 1:30 p.m. Wednesday and returned their verdict shortly before 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Crow Wing County Judicial Center. After reading the verdicts, a court officer individually polled each juror to affirm their decision.
When the verdict was read, Frederick, 68, of Crosslake, stared straight ahead while his daughter burst into tears in her courtroom seat. When the jury was excused and court adjourned, Frederick hugged family members present in the courtroom.
Jack’s family, friends and supporters shared tears and hugs in the hallway outside the courtroom. Crow Wing County Attorney Don Ryan said the case had been emotional for everyone involved.
Following the verdicts, Jack’s parents, Kory and Becky Larson, said they were pleased with the outcome of the trial.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Kory Larson said. “It just feels like justice.”
Added Becky: “I wouldn’t say it’s a happy day but I would say that I am satisfied that he has been held responsible for his actions.”
Frederick said he hoped the Larson family would find peace with the verdicts.
“It’s a shame it had to come to that,” Frederick said. “I know it was horrible accident and my heart has been with the (Larson) family the last two years.”
During the trial, which started Friday, attorneys conceded there was no argument that Frederick was driving the vehicle that passed several other stopped vehicles before hitting and killing Jack. The issue to be settled by the jury was whether Frederick’s actions were an accident or a crime.
In his closing arguments Wednesday, Ryan argued that the evidence proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Frederick’s actions leading to Jack’s death were grossly negligent. Ryan asked the jury to find Frederick guilty on the charge of criminal vehicular homicide. The lesser charge of careless driving was put to the jury for consideration at the request of Frederick’s attorney, Brent Schafer.
Schafer in his closing arguments said Frederick’s actions were careless but not gross negligence and the evidence showed Frederick had medical issues — he suffers from sleep apnea and diabetes — that may have led to the crash. The evidence, Schafer said, didn’t support a conviction.
Following the verdicts, Schafer said he was shocked the jury found there was a reasonable doubt after he presented evidence that there were medical conditions.
“There was nothing that refuted that and I think the physical evidence supported that,” Schafer said. “I’m very surprised.”
Schafer said it was too early to say whether Frederick would appeal the convictions.
A sentencing date was not set Wednesday. Ryan said he would be conferring with family members and Schafer on the availability of dates. Judge Erik Askegaard noted a sentencing date would need to be set within three days. Schafer said he would be seeking a later sentencing date to allow him to prepare motions for a sentencing departure. A charge of felony criminal vehicular homicide or carried a maximum sentence of 10 years prison and/or a $20,000 fine.
Ryan said he would not seek the immediate incarceration of Frederick, instead allowing him to be released on the same conditions set when he was criminally charged in 2009.
MATT ERICKSON may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5857.