Jul 31, 2013 - By Eric Blom, Staff WriterFremont County Attorney Michael Bennett said criminal liability could not be placed on any one person in the death of 4-year-old Thunder Littlethunder Jr. of Riverton.
The boy's death was ruled a homicide based on autopsy results, which state he died at about 2:30 a.m. Tuesday, April 9, at Riverton Memorial Hospital from sepsis due to sever bronchopneumonia. Severe malnutrition and dehydration were listed as contributing factors.
Former deputy county prosecutor Kathy Kavanagh has criticized Bennett for failing to file charges in the case.
"Prosecutors have discretion, but there are certain boundaries that prosecutors across the country will not cross, and this man has crossed them," Kavanagh said at a Fremont County Commission meeting. "Declining to prosecute a case that has been ruled a homicide is egregious."
Bennett said it's improper to equate a doctor's determination of homicide with the criminal process, as the legal and medical definitions of homicide are very different.
"A criminal investigation revealed criminal liability could not be placed under any one person," he said. "The circumstances surrounding (Littlethunder's) death indicated that he was a frail child stricken by sudden illness."
Fremont County Coroner Ed McAuslan didn't want to get involved in the debate, but he said Bennett is responsible to make decisions regarding prosecution in homicide cases.
"Each of us has our own duties and our own job," McAuslan said Friday. "(The coroner's) job is to determine the cause and the manner of death. The prosecution aspect is a
decision that the county attorney makes based on the evidence and the things he has presented to him."
He said the prosecution decision "rests solely with the county attorney."
"We can make that determination of homicide, (but) if he does not think it's a prosecutable case, then that's his decision," McAuslan said. "We just do our job, and he makes his decisions for his office."
When asked about the comment that Littlethunder was a "frail child," McAuslan said the boy did have a medical history, but McAuslan said the details are confidential.
"There's nothing I can necessarily openly discuss," he said.
-- Staff writer Katie Roenigk contributed to this story
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