A Brainerd man accused of poisoning a 4-month-old baby in an attempt to kill her was sentenced to more than 12 years in state prison.
Jeffrey Ryan Thomas -- also known as Jeffrey Ryan Shanks -- added ethylene glycol to the baby girl’s bottle during her feeding in an attempt to kill her and then tried to pin the crime on the baby’s mother, according to court documents charging him with the crime.
Crow Wing County Assistant Attorney Janine Lepage laid out the state prosecution’s evidence against Thomas during a court hearing Wednesday, Aug. 21, in Crow Wing County District Court in Brainerd.
Thomas entered an Alford plea to first-degree premeditated attempted murder. An Alford plea allows Thomas to maintain his innocence while acknowledging the state prosecution office has strong enough evidence against him to support a jury’s determination of guilt.
Thomas, wearing a Crow Wing County Jail-issued orange jumpsuit with his hands shackled at his waist, entered his Alford plea as he sat next to his Public Defender Symon Schindler-Syme in front of Judge Erik J. Askegaard.
Thomas was charged Feb. 26, 2018, with first-degree attempted murder with premeditation, second-degree attempted murder without premeditation and first-degree assault to cause great bodily harm. As part of the Alford plea agreement, these charges were dismissed and Thomas was convicted of first-degree attempted murder with premeditation. He was given an executed sentence of 12 years, nine months -- or 153 months -- in a Minnesota Correctional Facility. He was given credit of 545 days of days already served.
Before the Alford plea was accepted, Askegaard asked Thomas if he understood he was waiving all his rights, including having a jury trial, and he has a right to file a motion to appeal his case. Askegaard also asked Thomas if he was thinking clearly, understood what he was doing with the Alford plea and if he was voluntarily entering his plea and not being forced into it. Thomas answered that he understood the agreement and his rights.
Askegaard then asked Thomas if he understood the court has to have a record of the state’s evidence; and then had Lepage argue her case. Thomas said he understood.
Lepage began by stating the 4.5-page probable cause court document filed against Thomas in 2018 stands as is. The complaint states the Brainerd Police Department was contacted Jan. 20, 2018, by a pediatrician concerned for a 4-month-old baby girl, who was currently in their care and was critically ill. The baby’s medical providers had reason to believe she was poisoned by ingesting ethylene glycol, which due to her age and lack of mobility, would have likely been provided by her caregivers.
The baby was admitted to Minneapolis Children's Hospital after she was airlifted from the Cuyuna Regional Medical Center emergency department due to her critical condition. Testing on the girl showed ingestion of ethylene glycol, which is commonly found in antifreeze and de-icing fluids, the complaint stated.
During the time frame leading up to the baby's onset of symptoms, she was being cared for by Thomas and his wife, who is not the baby’s biological mother.
The baby recovered and was discharged from the intensive care unit about Jan. 24 and from Minneapolis Children's Hospital on Feb. 9, 2018. She was placed in foster care during the investigation.
During the course of the investigation, Thomas told officials he prepared the bottles given to the baby prior to her becoming critically ill. Thomas and his wife denied the existence of any antifreeze in the home. Brainerd police obtained a warrant to search Thomas’ home. Officers located a jug of antifreeze in the basement.
Following a Jan. 20, 2018, interview with Thomas’ wife, she provided Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension agents with the bottle of formula most recently fed to the baby prior to hospitalization. The contents of the bottle of formula provided to agents was analyzed, and it was determined the bottle contained baby formula and ethanol.
A bottle of unknown purple liquid was located outside the home in the yard. BCA lab test results indicate ethanol was present. A search of the defendant’s phone revealed he’d accessed the Wikipedia page for ethylene glycol poisoning, the complaint stated, which noted ethanol is a potential antidote for that type of poisoning.
Searches of Thomas’ and his wife’s cellphones contained text messaging depicting significant issues surrounding the paternity of the baby and the wife’s dislike of the baby, according to court documents. Agents found concerning internet searches on Thomas’ cellphone on Jan. 12, 2018, with a search done on "what does antifreeze do to the human body."
Lepage said the state prosecution office has thousands of pages of documents supporting the fact Thomas was responsible for poisoning the baby, not his wife, as he claimed.
Lepage said Thomas repeatedly lied during the investigation.
The state said Thomas fixed the baby’s bottle, laced with the poison, and when he fed her the first time, the baby vomited and he cleaned up the vomit. The next morning, he tried to feed her the poison again and the baby refused. The baby’s bedding tested positive for ethylene glycol.
The morning the baby was sick, Thomas texted his attorney in Dakota County asking about the results of the paternity tests. Lepage said Thomas had the paternity results on his mind, not his sick baby because “he had to get rid of her before the tests were back” so he could frame the baby’s mother for murder, by writing fake Facebook messages that she was abusive and a danger to the baby.
“He wanted to get rid of (the baby) so there would be no DNA test … then he could pin it on (the baby’s mother) so he and (his wife) could live happily ever after,” Lepage argued.
According to the complaint, the wife stated to Thomas that if the baby’s test results came back positive, she would leave him.
Sometime after the baby was hospitalized, the wife left Thomas. This is when Lepage said Thomas remembered more details, such as having some plastic jugs of antifreeze at his residence that were “extremely watered down” and were most likely mostly water, the complaint stated. The state argued there is no way Thomas could have been confused in feeding the baby antifreeze versus the watered down version. Lepage argued the “water” was not clear, it was bright green.
“There is no way in the world you could be confused,” Lepage said.
The state also argued Thomas’ claim he was not looking up "what does antifreeze do to the human body," but rather he was looking up at what the poison does to a cat, as his mother’s cat was sick and he wondered if it was poisoned with antifreeze.
“This is not believable,” Lepage said, as the cat was not anywhere near a veterinarian clinic. She also argued if people Google "what does antifreeze ...” it would not automatically pull up what it would do to a human body.
Lepage said there is absolutely no evidence to support that anyone else had something to do with poisoning the baby -- all the evidence supports Thomas did the crime.
“This is the most diabolical thing anyone could do to a baby,” Lepage said of putting a bottle up to a baby’s mouth to feed her knowing it’s poisonous.
The judge’s decision
When the state was done with its arguments, Askegaard asked Thomas if he understood everything the state said about the crime and if he used premeditation and he whispered, “Yes, your honor.”
When sentencing Thomas, Askegaard said he hopes the prison time the Brainerd man will serve will give him time to process everything and he develops a conscience for the heinous crime he committed.
“The court has no words,” Askegaard said of a person who would intentionally poison a baby.
Victim impact statement
The baby’s mother’s wrote a victim impact statement, read by Lepage. The mother addressed Thomas stating, “I hope you learn from your mistakes and know how much you are missing from this beautiful girl,” she wrote.
The mother stated it was tough to watch her baby girl fighting for her life at such a young age. She said the baby lost control of her muscles, had tubes hooked up all over and she had to go through months of therapy to learn how to eat again.
“She is now at 100%,” the mother wrote. “I can’t tell you how this will affect her in her future. I hope she believes how strong she is. She is worthy.”
The mother stated she is not sure how she will explain to her daughter what happened to her when she was a baby, but has time to figure it out.
The prosecution provided the court with some current photographs of the baby; and Askegaard said, “You have a beautiful girl.”