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Homicide charges likely against Cannon Falls man

RED WING, Minn. -- A Cannon Falls, Minn., man could face homicide charges in the death of a 2-year-old girl he was babysitting last week.

Justin David Lake, 29, was charged Thursday with first-degree assault and malicious punishment of a child. The toddler died Sunday - four days after she was found unresponsive at Lake's residence. Court officials said homicide charges were likely to follow, pending a coroner's report.

Lake is being held in Goodhue County jail on $500,000 bail.

According to a criminal complaint, Cannon Falls police were dispatched after Lake reported the 2-year-old had fallen after jumping on her bed.

Police arrived to find Lake pacing outside the residence while an emergency worker tended to the child. The toddler was found unconscious and with a large bump on her forehead.

Authorities said the girl was the daughter of Lake's girlfriend, Tabitha Hanson, who was shopping in Red Wing at the time. She told officers she had noticed behavioral problems with the child when Lake was around. Hanson said her daughter didn't like Lake because he disciplines her.

According to interviews, Hanson said she left the girl alone with Lake Thursday night in hopes of her warming up to him.

During questioning, Lake told police the child had received marks and bruises from earlier falls.

The critically injured child was first taken to Cannon Falls Area Hospital, then airlifted to St. Marys Hospital in Rochester, where she later died.

Doctors at St. Marys treated the girl for brain trauma, but refuted Lake's claims that she was injured in a fall. Preliminary medical findings revealed the child, who would have turned 3 years old July 15, sustained a severe abusive traumatic head injury.

"The injuries are consistent with the child being forcibly shoved into a door frame or being hit in the head with another hard object, similar to a baseball bat," the complaint states.

Court officials said an autopsy on the girl has been completed, but a coroner's report could take two more weeks. The investigation remains open.

Lake has two prior convictions for drunken driving, one from 2002 and another from January 2009.

If convicted on the assault and malicious punishment charges, he could receive a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison and a $50,000 fine. Lake returns to court July 17.

The last Cannon Falls homicide was in 1995, when 3-year-old Jessica Swanson died after abuse from her mother's boyfriend, Dale Jenson. He admitted in court to shoving her into an entertainment center, causing her to hit her head.