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Worthington man fails in appeal of felony convictions

WORTHINGTON — An appeal decision was made Monday by the State of Minnesota Court of Appeals for a Worthington man who challenged his assault conviction.

Sunday Htoo, 24, who challenged his conviction of third-degree assault and malicious punishment of a child, argued the district court erred in admitting the victim’s out-of-court statements to her mother, teacher and doctor. He also argued the district court made an error by admitting a police officer’s opinion testimony that the victim’s injury was not accidental.

The appellate court affirmed Monday that the district court acted within its discretion in all of its challenged evidentiary rulings at trial.

In October 2012, a 5-year old victim was hospitalized due to a hand injury from Htoo placing her hand over a flame from a gas stove as punishment for not listening to him.

The victim was absent from school Oct. 24-26, 2012, and when she returned to school, her teacher was concerned that the victim had been sick. When asked if she had been sick the victim allegedly stated, “her father had been mean to her,” and then showed her hand to the teacher, according to appellate court documents.

A Worthington police officer then responded to a school report regarding the victim’s burns. The officer observed an open sore or burn mark on the top of the victim’s hand and a little bit toward the inside of her index finger, according to appellate court documents. The officer also noted that the wound was open, discolored and had black char marks.

When law enforcement interviewed Htoo, he allegedly stated that the victim was standing on a step stool in order to help him cook. He explained the victim was stirring a pot on one burner when he accidentally turned on another burner and burned the victim’s hand, according to appellate court documents.

Htoo maintained the injury was accidental, but stated that “he may have told the victim that maybe she got burnt because she was bad,” according to appellate court records.

The victim was taken to an emergency room at Sanford Worthington Medical Center, where Dr. Bharat Patel observed three burns on the victim’s hand. Her middle finger had a first-degree burn that was already healed. Her index finger had a second-degree burn with an open blister but was healing; her thumb had a second-degree burn that was healing.

During Htoo’s trial in January 2013, Patel testified that he had only seen one or two other cases involving burns to the top of the hand — and had seen many accidental burns — but none to the part of the hand where the victim was burned.

The officer who responded to the report also testified that she had observed a variety of accidental and intentional injuries, including burns, and had never seen accidental burns on the top of a person’s hand.

After the close of the state’s case, the district court ruled that the victim’s statements to her mother and teacher were not testimonial, but concluded that the statements were admissible.

On Feb. 6, 2013, the district court found Htoo guilty of third-degree assault inflicting substantial bodily harm and malicious punishment of a child. He was sentenced to one year and one day in jail on the third-degree assault charge.

Htoo is currently in the custody of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Daily Globe Reporter Erin Trester may be reached at 376-7322.

Erin Trester
Erin Trester is the crime and city reporter for the Daily Globe. She's a native of Lewiston, MN, but moved to Buffalo, NY to attend college and obtained her bachelor's degree in Communications. She started at the Western New York Catholic Newspaper as a reporter in Buffalo, but in October 2013 she returned to her home state to start with the Daily Globe. Most of her spare time is taken up by her 13-year-old thoroughbred named Faith, but some of her other hobbies include reading, fishing and spending time with friends and family. 
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