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Pierce County jury convicts woman; defendant nowhere to be found

Michaela M. Sousa

Courtroom logic says jurors tend not to look at defendants when they return a guilty verdict.

A panel of Pierce County jurors faced no such burden in January after finding Michaela M. Sousa guilty of felony child abuse. The defendant was nowhere to be found.

Pierce County District Attorney Sean Froelich said Sousa attended the first day of the trial, but was a no-show the second day.

"That is very unusual," he said. "I have never experienced that."

Jurors convicted the 26-year-old Farmington, Minn., resident of felony child abuse and misdemeanor obstructing an officer after about three hours of deliberation.

Froelich said law does not require defendants to be present at trial, provided they attend at the beginning. From there, Sousa was legally allowed to be represented solely by her lawyer. Froelich said Sousa called her attorney, James Krave, to say she was on her way, "but she never showed." Court officials were not allowed to tell the jury why Sousa was absent until after the verdict was read and the trial concluded.

Buffalo-Pepin County Circuit Court Judge James Duvall issued a warrant for Sousa's arrest after the verdict was returned.

Prosecutors alleged Sousa physically abused her daughter, who was 4 months old in July 2016 when River Falls police launched an investigation into the cause of her injuries.

According to a criminal complaint:

Sousa, a River Falls resident at the time, hospitalized herself July 3, 2016, at Hudson Hospital, where a nurse registered concerns with the baby and contacted police. Police tracked down Sousa and her then- live-in boyfriend, 22-year-old Sebastian Manneh, along with the child and determined the baby was in need of medical attention.

Police learned from a Pierce County Human Services child protection worker the child sustained bleeding on her brain and that the injury was highly suspicious.

Initial interviews with Sousa and Manneh produced a version of events police determined were not consistent with the severity and type of injury sustained. Doctors told officers the injuries "were from inflicted abusive trauma," the complaint states.

Police, who were at St. Paul Children's Hospital interviewing the couple, returned from their briefing from doctors to learn Sousa and Manneh had left and were en route to River Falls.

"This seemed odd," investigator Chuck Golden wrote in the complaint, "because we informed Sebastian and Michaela that we were going to speak to the doctors about their daughter's status and that we would then speak to them about what we had learned."

Investigators interviewed the couple again in River Falls, where Sousa told a story she later admitted was a lie.

The couple returned to the River Falls police station days later, where investigators interviewed them again. Confronted with conflicting information about stories she'd told, Sousa later admitted the injury may have been inflicted while the child was present during a domestic fight she and Manneh had.

She told police Manneh was striking her and may have struck the baby in the process. Sousa also said she was "inadvertently striking and making contact" with the child while protecting herself during the fight, the complaint states.

Sousa also described a different instance when she and Manneh were simultaneously pulling at the baby while battling for control of the child.

Golden told Sousa she was under arrest and began making arrangements to jail her, at which point Sousa bolted from the police station before being caught after a brief foot pursuit.

Manneh, who now lists a Bloomington, Minn., address, has three open criminal cases in Pierce County. Those charges do not include child abuse.

No sentencing date has been set for Sousa.

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

(715) 426-1072
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