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An enthusiastic smile, an infectious laugh. His face lights up when he sees someone he knows.

These are just a few of the ways 18-month-old Elijah was described before being severely injured on Aug. 12, 2019, in Braham.

Elijah’s caregiver at the time, Alicia Dolores Mohrland, now 22, was sentenced for felony first-degree assault before Judge John Klossner on Oct. 1 in Isanti County District Court in Cambridge for her actions on Aug. 12, 2019. Mohrland was sentenced to six years and eight months in prison, and three years and four months on supervised probation.

Mohrland, currently incarcerated at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Shakopee, will get credit for the 417 days she served in the Isanti County Jail.

On Feb. 26, 2020, a plea hearing was held, also before Klossner, where Mohrland entered a petition to enter a guilty plea to the felony charge, which also carries an aggravating factor of the child being particularly vulnerable due to his status as a foster child in her home. Elijah had been placed in Mohrland’s home on April 19, 2019.

According to the criminal complaint, first responders were dispatched on Aug. 12, 2019, to a medical call along the 220 block of Beechwood Avenue South in the city of Braham on a report of an 18-month-old child having difficulty breathing.

When Mohrland was asked what happened, she stated Elijah wasn’t eating and throwing a temper tantrum, and she was going to put him in time out, so she tossed him in the playpen and thought he may have hit his head on a door.

When Mohrland was speaking with Braham Police Chief Eric Baumgart, she said, “I didn’t mean for it to happen.” Mohrland confirmed she tossed the child approximately 6 to 7 feet into his playpen. Mohrland also explained to law enforcement that Elijah had experienced previous abuse from his biological parents.

Through tears, prior to her sentencing, Mohrland said she wishes she could take back that day in August.

“There’s nothing I can say or do to take back what’s happened. The one thing I thought I’d be good at was being a mom and I can’t even do that. I hurt every day knowing what I’ve done. Knowing that I affected so many people’s lives so negatively and I can’t take it back,” Mohrland said. “My parents always said that sorry doesn’t fix anything and it doesn’t.”

Klossner said during his rather short time on the bench — he was appointed on July 27, 2017, by then Gov. Mark Dayton — he’s dealt with two cases similar to Mohrland’s.

“The thing about these cases, the more times I do them, the less words that I have really to offer to anybody, offering comfort or wisdom or healing,” Klossner said. “No matter who you are, or how you’ve been affected by this, this is a tragedy, and there’s no getting around that. There’s no amount of sentence that I can provide to make anyone feel better.”

Klossner praised the strength of Elijah, as well as the efforts of the first responders, medical personnel, and all who have been a part of Elijah’s care team.

“The reason we are not here on a homicide case is because of the resiliency of this child and the medical staff,” Klossner said. “This child will live with this for the rest of his life ... just as Ms. Mohrland will have to live with this for the rest of her life.”

County attorney argues for maximum sentence

Isanti County Attorney Jeff Edblad said Mohrland, who had just moved from Morrison County to Braham, had family and county resources available to her.

“This was 100% completely preventable. There was no reason, no reason, no matter how frustrated one is, no matter what one’s life circumstances are, there is no reason for an adult, a caregiver, someone acting in the role of a parent, to throw a child several feet across the room, and that child striking his head against the door. This was 100% preventable,” Edblad said. “Those injuries occurred as the result of one action, and one action only. And that was the action of the defendant, Ms. Mohrland, to pick up a child, who she said was having a tantrum, and in her frustration, throw that child, where the child struck his head, incurring lifelong injuries, incurring lifelong damage, incurring lifelong physical issues, incurring lifelong cognitive issues.”

Edblad described the ways in which this act was preventable.

“This was preventable for a number of reasons. The defendant had resources available to help her. And while the PSI (pre-sentence investigation) talks about the defendant’s life situation, talks about the troubles of the life partner she chose, the defendant had resources available to help her and the three young children,” Edblad said. “A young child of her own, and the two foster children that were placed in her home, relative placement, her significant other’s nephew, who was subject to a child protection case.

“It is troubling to think that this conduct, this crime, this first-degree assault, took place upon a foster child by someone who at one point in her own life was a foster child. ... Having been a foster child at some point in her own life, finally achieving the stability of being adopted at approximately the age of 10, should have been very aware and very cognizant, and very sensitive to the situation of foster children. And to have taken a foster child ... and throw that child into the wall, causing injury, was the facts of the aggravated factor that the defendant admitted to when she pleaded guilty on Feb. 26, 2020, that Elijah was particularly vulnerable due to his status a foster child. So it’s troubling that someone who should have not only the empathy of a parent, the empathy of a caregiver, the desire to protect as a parent, the desire to protect as a caregiver, someone who should have the additional empathy of what it’s like to be a child coming out of dysfunctional home environment looking for love, looking for stability, looking for a chance to live a full life, having all of that shattered when that child was thrown into wall by that caregiver. Frankly, it’s reprehensible, your honor,” Edblad said.

Edblad said Mohrland had access to a public health nurse and social workers. He noted her mother living in Pierz, her aunt living in Stanchfield and a friend, who was also a young mother, all expressed their availability to help Mohrland.

“The defendant had resources available through public health, she had resources available through two counties, family services department, social workers in Morrison County involved in the initial placement and social workers in Isanti County,” Edblad said. “In looking at Mr. (Jeffrey) Bailey’s pre-sentence investigation, the defendant did not take advantage of and avail herself to any of those resources.”

In the pre-sentence investigation, Edblad said Mohrland, her family members and her friend all had concerns about the level of stress Mohrland was under carrying for three babies.

“The stress may have been there, but there were resources to deal with it. The defendant recognized it but didn’t ask family members for help. The defendant recognized it but didn’t ask public health for help. The defendant recognized it but didn’t ask two counties’ worth of social workers for help. The family members recognized it and spoke to her about it,” Edblad said. “All it would have taken was asking for help and we wouldn’t be here today.”

Public defender argues for probation

Mohrland’s public defender, Michael Berger, argued for Mohrland to avoid further jail time and be sentenced to probation.

“I want the court to understand this is a complicated individual who was put in a complicated situation,” Berger said. “At the time of the offense, Ms. Mohrland was 21 years old. She was 21 years old with a newborn, an 18-month old and a 10-month old in her care. One child that was hers, and two that she had taken the tremendous steps to provide care for, one of the most noble tasks anyone can undertake. She agreed to take on that noble task. The fact is that unfortunately she wasn’t able to rise to that.”

Berger admits Mohrland should have asked for help.

“Yes, Allie could have asked for help. Yes, and she should have. She would be the first one to tell you that. But to suggest this all falls on her, that it doesn’t take a village, that’s absurd,” Berger said.

Berger said Mohrland is remorseful for her actions.

“And you can see her sitting here today. She doesn’t remove the gravity of this. She doesn’t remove her responsibility from what she did. And you can see that from her police report,” Berger said. “She called law enforcement. She reported what happened. She walked them through what occurred. She did everything she could to get Elijah help immediately as it happened. Yes, Elijah’s life is tragic. It is absolutely tragic. What happened to him is absolutely tragic. And that’s never been discounted and the last person that’s ever discounted that is Allie. She took on a noble task and wasn’t able to rise to the occasion in the worst possible way.”

Berger argued that Mohrland is amenable to probation and asked the judge to grant a stay of execution of 117 months, with credit for 417 days served, and release her from custody immediately and place her on probation.

“The reality is, is that when she was on probation, out in the world dealing with life, jobs, kids, living, moving day to day, she was succeeding on probation. She is particularly amenable to probation,” Berger said. “And to the greater point, she is who she is. We’ve put before the court her complete story. Her complete story of how that failure in taking on that noble task occurred and why we’re here today. Allie has taken responsibility and has not taken responsibility lightly. It’s taken responsibility for the person you see here today. The person who can’t stop crying every time I have to talk to her about the difficult facts, and I mean that to specifically to Elijah. ... She’s living with this for the rest of her life. You can give her the 132 months, that’s not going to make her feel any less guilty. The question is, is she particularly amenable to probation under the law and have we shown that to you, and I believe the answer to that is yes.”

Previous felony conviction

Court records show Mohrland, who lived in Morrison County before moving to Braham in approximately August 2018, received a stay of imposition from Morrison County in March 2018 for a felony theft charge. She was sentenced to 30 days in the Morrison County Jail and five years supervised probation, ending on March 21, 2023. The criminal complaint in the case explained that Mohrland stole two long guns from a Little Falls residence where she was working as a home health aide, and jewelry from a residence in Royalton, where she was also performing home health care.

Victim impact statements describe Elijah’s life since he was severely injured

Courtney Rannow was Elijah’s court-appointed Guardian ad Litem from Jan. 7, 2019, until Jan. 30, 2020. Isanti County victim services coordinator Brenda Skogman read a victim impact statement written by Rannow during the sentencing of Alicia Delores Mohrland on Thursday, Oct. 1, held at Isanti County District Court in Cambridge.

“He was full of emotion. He had developed a sense of stranger. Elijah had learned to walk. He loved playing and receiving attention. Elijah was beginning to talk. He was developmentally on task for his age. I last saw Elijah in Alicia Mohrland’s home in mid-July 2019,” Rannow wrote. “His face lit up with a big smile and he ran toward me with his arms up to be held. Elijah thoroughly enjoyed the attention he received when his workers came to visit.

“Elijah spent his time going between me, his social worker and Alicia Mohrland. Elijah would smile when he went by Alicia, he would hug Alicia. It was clear he had developed a bond and an attachment with Alicia Mohrland,” Rannow added.

Rannow explained that Mohrland was taking care of three young children during the time of the incident: a newborn, 18-month-old Elijah and a 10-month-old. One child was Mohrland’s and the other two were foster care children. Rannow explained Mohrland and her significant other were in the process of becoming licensed foster parents and intended to adopt Elijah.

“During that July visit, Alicia Mohrland did not express being overwhelmed. She did not request assistance or additional services. Approximately four weeks after that July visit, Elijah was once again in Children’s Hospital,” Rannow wrote. “Initially there were concerns regarding if Elijah would survive with all the multiple machines he was on. He has severe injuries, a traumatic brain injury.”

Rannow explained over the course of several weeks at Children’s, Elijah had several tests due to his injuries, and also noted due to the severity of his head injury, he was unable to have visitors for almost a month.

“His brain needed to rest and time to heal. Elijah was alive but the outlook was not good,” Rannow wrote. “He was on multiple medications for various reasons. Elijah was fed through a feeding tube, he was in pain constantly. It was unknown, what, if any progress would be made. Would the rest of Elijah’s life be spent in hospital-type beds?”

Rannow explained the first time she got to see Elijah following the Aug. 12, 2019, incident was on Sept. 6, 2019.

“There was no enthusiastic smile, no infectious laugh. Elijah had more tubes than I could count. They had to be moved or held in place with medical tape as Elijah would try to pull them out. He had made improvements during the past few weeks; however, it was still believed that he could not have much fight,” Rannow wrote.

Rannow explained after six weeks, Elijah left Children’s Hospital and was moved into an in-patient rehabilitation facility and Rannow was able to visit him in October.

“His speech therapist was working with Elijah on feeding and swallowing beverages. At 19 months old, Elijah was having to learn how to eat solid foods for the second time in his life. ... The occupational therapist and physical therapist were working with Elijah on rolling over. Another skill he had mastered and was now having to be relearned.”

Rannow explained Elijah was discharged from the in-patient rehabilitation facility after 5 1/2 weeks.

“At 20 months old, Elijah was only saying a few words. He could not walk or even crawl. ... Twice in his life, Elijah has had to learn how to roll, how to sip independently, how to talk, how to pick up food and put it in his mouth, how to chew solid foods, how to hold a cup and drink, how to use his right arm and right leg,” Rannow wrote.

“Elijah has made significant strides; however, he is not developmentally on track for a 2-year-old. He is not walking or even crawling. He only says two- or three-word sentences. ... He has an in-home nurse that comes multiple days a week. It is unknown if Elijah will ever catch up developmentally. It is unknown what long-term complications, physical or psychological, Elijah will have as a result of these injuries. Elijah’s future is full of unknowns, more so than the average person,” Rannow concluded.

Elijah’s uncle speaks out

Tanner Kohl, an uncle of Elijah, wrote a victim impact statement also read by Skogman.

“The crime against Elijah has affected my family emotionally and is life changing. How we almost lost a loved one. We will never be able to see Elijah and the little one that was in the house at that time,” Kohl wrote. “I hope that Alicia gets prison time for the crime against Elijah.”

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