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Crime & Courts

Tristan Larson appeals murder conviction in child’s death

 South Dakota Supreme Court
South Dakota Supreme Court

A man found guilty of second-degree murder in the death of a two-year-old boy is appealing his conviction to the South Dakota Supreme Court.

At oral arguments on Tuesday, April 26, Tristan Larson’s attorney told Supreme Court justices that his client was too emotional to understand what it meant to give up his Miranda rights and talk with detectives immediately after the child died. But the state said Larson wants his statements suppressed because they reveal a depraved mind.

The state Supreme Court held its April term at the School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City.

Justices heard arguments in three cases on Tuesday, April 26, and three more arguments on Wednesday, April 27. The court will deliberate and deliver opinions at a later date.

In April 2020, Tristan Larson was caring for his girlfriend’s two-year-old son. When Larson called his girlfriend at her workplace to say the child had fallen to the floor and would not get up, the girlfriend walked home, and she and Larson debated what to do. According to reports, the boy was not taken to Avera St. Mary’s Hospital in Pierre for 40 minutes after the fall.

The child was diagnosed with a brain bleed and airlifted to Sioux Falls. He died two days later.

In an interview with police officers at the Pierre hospital, Larson said the child had been jumping on the bed and the dog knocked him over. But two days later, the day the child died, Larson admitted that he pushed the boy, who fell onto a carpeted floor, tried to get up, fell again, and hit his head both times.

At oral arguments, Larson’s attorney, Brad Schreiber, said Larson was too upset to understand the consequences of waiving his Miranda rights.

“And this level of emotion extended all the way through this interrogation,” he said. “There were times when he would lay his head down on the table. There were times he had his head in his hands.”

Schreiber said the trial judge erred when she denied Larson’s motion to suppress his statements to investigators.

“He could not have made an intelligent, voluntary waiver of his rights,” he said.

The state was represented by Solicitor General Paul Swedlund. He said the story Larson told the second time was still not supported by evidence.

“The brain bleed is up in the front of his temporal lobes right behind the area where he was struck,” he said.

Swedlund said Larson hit the child in the forehead hard enough to knock the boy off his feet and then waited 40 minutes before getting the unconscious child to a hospital. He said those facts more than prove that Larson acted with a depraved mind, an element of second-degree murder.

“Doesn’t matter whether he fell on a carpeted floor or into a goose down pillow, because what killed him is the blow to his forehead,” Swedlund said.

The Supreme Court will deliberate and issue an opinion at a later date.