BRECKENRIDGE, Minn. – The father of Winter Sky Barker, the 3-year-old Breckenridge boy who died April 10 of blunt-force injuries, has been accused of murder and child abuse, according to documents filed in Wilkin County District Court.
Tracy Norman Brant, 35, was charged Thursday, April 19, with one count of second-degree murder, three counts of third-degree assault and two counts of malicious punishment of a child, all felonies.
According to court documents:
Breckenridge police were dispatched to 200 Park Ave., Apartment 201, at 10:11 a.m. April 10. When officers arrived, they found Brant doing chest compressions on Winter, who was not breathing and without a pulse.
As medics tried unsuccessfully to revive the boy, Ramona Shortman, 23, who lived with Brant and has three children with him, spontaneously said, “I know (the victim is) covered in bruises and has bumps on his head, but he was fine yesterday,” according to court documents.
Winter lived with Brant and Shortman, and three children, ages 28 months, 14 months and 2 months, that Brant and Shortman had together. Brant received full custody of Winter in January after the boy’s mother was jailed.
The other three children have been removed from the apartment by Wilkin County Family Services. Shortman has not been charged in connection with Winter’s death.
Shortman told police that Winter ate breakfast and lunch on April 9, but then began vomiting about 4 p.m. The boy complained of stomach pain, only sipping water for the rest of that evening.
The next day while Shortman was at an appointment, she told police Brant called her and said, “I think Winter’s dead.” Brant told police he moved Winter from a loveseat to a playpen, and later discovered the boy not breathing.
An autopsy by Dr. Kelly Mills of the Ramsey County Medical Examiner’s Office in St. Paul found that Winter had suffered chemical peritonitis due to his stomach being perforated by blunt-force trauma. Mills listed that as the cause of the child’s death, ruling it a homicide.
Mills also found other injuries, including bruises on the head, face, abdomen, extremities and back; cuts on the upper lip and mouth area; bruises on the abdomen and back, abrasions on the face, extremities and back; healing rib fractures (six to eight weeks old); and bleeding in a forearm.
Mills told an investigator that the fractures on both sides of the boy’s rib cage were indicative of child abuse. She said the injuries would cause chronic pain, including difficulty breathing and extreme discomfort when being picked up or moved. Mills said the boy also had a healing forehead injury that was consistent with a violent fall.
Shortman told investigators that Brant had hit her. However, she said Brant would never “do that” to Winter.
When asked about the bruises on Winter’s back, Shortman inferred that her 28-month-old might have inflicted the bruises with a broken hanger. Mills said the injuries could not have been caused by a 2-year-old.
Brant told investigators he was responsible for discipline in the home and had noticed injuries on Winter’s back, but he, too, said the 28-month-old may have been responsible. The father denied that he may have caused any injury that would have led to Winter’s death.
After being told the autopsy appeared to show a pattern of abuse, Brant asked for an attorney. His attorney, Kenneth Hamrum, did not return a message left Thursday.
Finley, Winter’s mother, was interviewed in the Roberts County Jail in Sisseton, S.D. She told investigators she was scared of how Brant treated her children, and that he had choked and hit her.
Finley said Brant would make Winter stand upright in a corner for hours at a time for punishment. If Winter slouched, Brant would smack the back of his legs, she said.
Brant was being held Thursday at the Wilkin County Jail. His bail was set at $750,000 with conditions of release, or $1.5 million without conditions.