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Man with Pierce County ties receives life sentence

HASTINGS, -- After 31 hours of deliberations, a Dakota County jury on Thanksgiving morning convicted Tylar James Hokanson, 24, formerly of Northfield, Minn., and Pierce County, of killing his 17-month-old stepson.

The child, Nicholas Arthur Miller, died June 23, 2009, at a Durand hospital after Pierce County deputies were called to his stepgrandparents' home in Maiden Rock.

While the child died in Pierce County, charges were filed in Minnesota because authorities believe that's where the fatal injuries occurred.

On Thanksgiving Day, jurors found Hokanson guilty of two counts of murder in the first degree and two counts of murder in the second degree in Nicholas' death.

The trial began Nov. 1.

Following the reading of the verdict, Judge Robert King sentenced Hokanson to life in prison.

"Nicholas Miller suffered horrific injuries through the actions of his stepfather," said Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom. "These injuries directly led to his death four days later."

According to the criminal complaint, Nicholas Miller, 17 months, was in pain from a broken back, which made it difficult to walk or even breathe. His brain was bleeding and he had other wounds on his body. For four days, he received no medical help from his family.

On June 23, Nicholas turned blue as his stepfather and stepgrandmother tried to revive him on a picnic table in Maiden Rock. They called 911 for help. The ambulance arrived 23 minutes later. When the boy arrived at the hospital in Durand, he was pronounced dead.

According to the complaint, prosecutors say an autopsy and investigation found Nicholas had been abused many times in Greenvale Township, which is near Northfield. Hokanson told investigators he shook Nicholas back and forth on June 19. He said he was mad at his sister-in-law at the time of the shaking.

The defense maintained throughout the trial that the shaking did not cause the baby's death.