Michael Hansen Restarting Life After Innocence, Freedom - KMSP-TV

Michael Hansen Restarting Life After Innocence, Freedom

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"I'm frustrated because I feel like I'm not normal.”

That’s Michael Hansen, who is struggling with the emotional trauma of spending six agonizing years in prison for the death of his daughter – a crime he didn’t commit.

"I feel different,” Hansen said. “I feel like, where do I belong. I know where I belong, but its more like who am I?”

No longer labeled a convicted murderer, Hansen is re-starting his life, grateful to see his kids again.

An aspiring artist, he’s in training and hopes to one day run his own tattoo business.

'What happened to me could happen to anybody, and I don't want to see that happen to anybody,” Hansen said.

VIDEO: Michael Hansen walks out of jail

Michael Hansen always maintained his innocence, never once considering a plea bargain that would have drastically cut his time behind bars.

The system failed Hansen in many ways, but it started with an autopsy by Dr. Michael McGee, chief medical examiner for Ramsey County.

Hansen's three-month-old daughter Avery died suddenly while in his care. The case was turned over to Dr. McGee to investigate. He found she had a large skull fracture and ruled the death a homicide.

"I never hurt my daughter,” Hansen said. “I would never hurt any of my children ever.”

Minnesota Regional Medical Examiner Lindsey Thomas said if it had been her case, she wouldn’t have ruled the death a homicide.

“It certainly might be ruled undetermined,” Thomas said.

Undetermined because there was a reasonable explanation for the skull fracture, and no physical evidence the fracture had caused a deadly brain injury.

A week before Avery’s death, her mother had taken her to Wal-Mart. Video from a store camera shows the two of them, with Avery strapped in a car seat on top of a shopping cart. The cart hit a bump and the seat went flying. Avery landed face down, still in the car seat. She cried a lot, but appeared uninjured.

"He knew about the accident that happened at Wal-Mart,” Hansen said of McGee’s investigation. “But it seemed to me and everyone else that he ruled this a homicide without doing any research into that."

Dr. McGee testified that "common sense" told him that Avery’s massive skull fracture could not have happened from the shopping cart fall. If it had, he said, she would have lost consciousness almost immediately and died in a matter of hours.

The jury found Michael Hansen guilty of second degree murder.

“it was numbing,” Hansen said. “I couldn't believe it."

Lawyers for the Innocence Project couldn't believe it either. They set out to prove Hansen’s conviction was a travesty of justice.

Six experts volunteered to review the evidence. They all concluded Avery’s death was a tragic accident, not murder.

"I am just really glad that I am not the person that called this a homicide,” Thomas said. “I would feel really bad about someone being in prison for six years because I made a mistake."

Dr. Thomas, and three other forensic pathologists determined Avery’s skull fracture was an older injury, in the process of healing and consistent with the shopping cart fall. They could find no evidence she suffered a brain injury that would've killed her.

At the trial, Dr. McGee acknowledged he couldn't "see" a brain injury, but said it had to be there because Avery died.

“He came up with something in his head and stuck with it,” Hansen said.

McGee never did anything to re-create the dynamics of the shopping cart fall. A biomechanical engineer hired by the Innocence Project did, and showed that kind of fall could fracture a child's skull.

McGee never asked doctors who treat children with head injuries if a child can have a serious fracture and still be healthy.

They can.

Dr. Carolyn Levitt, a renowned expert on child abuse, was hired by the prosecution to review the new evidence collected by the Innocence Project. Instead of tearing it apart, she agreed with it.

”The skull does fracture and those babies do very well,” Dr. Levitt said. “I think definitely the system failed."

Levitt says a case like this is why a team of experts, not just one medical examiner, should review the facts before criminal charges are filed.

“I think there was a lack of all the opinions that were needed in this trial,” she said.

If a brain injury didn't cause Avery’s death, what did?

"Most likely the death was related to positional asphyxiation, or unsafe sleep environment,” Thomas said.

Avery was found dead in bed. She'd been sleeping face down on a soft, squishy surface, surrounded by pillows and blankets. Her father and sister were also sleeping there -- all risk factors for an infant to suffocate.

But Dr. McGee had never gone to the scene to consider the role the sleep environment played in Avery’s death. Other medical examiners tell us that should be "standard procedure" anytime an infant dies mysteriously in bed.

After hearing the new evidence, the trial judge concluded Dr. McGee had given “false or incorrect” testimony. Michael Hansen was set free.

”I can't even get an apology,” Hansen said.

Dr. McGee remains defiant. He won't do an interview. But in an email to the FOX 9 Investigators says he still believes the Hansen case was a homicide and should be retried.

"He should have to answer to people,” Hansen said. “And he doesn't have to answer to anybody."

The fallout of the Hansen case did prompt Ramsey County, one of 15 counties McGee contracts with, to conduct an "administrative review" of his performance. They checked to make sure his license and certification are current, then declared him fit for duty.

But documents obtained by the FOX 9 Investigators show the county didn't review specific cases and didn't have independent experts see if his findings are based on sound science.

County officials refused to do an interview with us. We did get an email, reading “Ramsey County continues to review all of the information in this matter and has not made a decision with regard to any future actions."

Over the past year, the FOX 9 Investigators have reported on several murder convictions where Dr. McGee is accused of getting it wrong.

Thomas Rhodes is serving a life sentence for the murder of his wife. The case centered on testimony from Dr. McGee, who said an autopsy revealed Rhodes beat up his wife and threw her off a boat.

“Nothing like that happened,” Rhodes said.

After Rhodes was convicted, three other experts reviewed McGee's autopsy records. They found no signs of an assault, ruling the death "an accidental drowning."

Our coverage of the Rhodes and Hansen cases were both mentioned in a petition filed last week by a lawyer for Alfonso Rodriguez, now on death row for the murder of college student Dru Sjodin. The motion seeks to overturn the death sentence, claiming Dr. McGee used "junk science" and "lied" when he testified that Sjodin had been raped and stabbed.

"McGee has often performed shoddy work and drawn questionable conclusions for the benefit of the prosecution,” the petition says.

"Anybody else would be held accountable,” Hansen said.

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