A Spirit Lake woman has been found guilty on one of two charges in the death of her infant daughter. Kossuth County judge Joseph Straub ruled Heidi Watkins is not guilty of murder charges — but is guilty of multiple-counts of child endangerment in the beating death of her 2-year-old daughter, Shelby Duis. The judge says the state did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Watkins killed Duis on her own, or with the help of her boyfriend, Jesse Wendelsdorf. Straub does say the state proved Watkins abused the child on five different occasions. The 29-year-old Watkins will be sentenced in November 21st. Watkins could get 50 years in prison. Watkins’ attorney, Pamela Wingert, is relieved with the aquittal on the murder charge, but is still assessing the ruling on the child endangerment charges.Dickinson County Attorney Ned Bjornstad says Judge Straub’s ruling speaks on its own.Bjornstad expects some people will be upset that neither Watkins nor her boyfriend were found guilty of Duis’ murder. He says he can understand as a lawyer how the verdicts were reached, but says it will be difficult for laymen. Bjornstad says this decision is the end of the case, and he hopes the community can go on.The case raised questions about how child abuse claims are investigated in Iowa.Governor Tom Vilsack held a news conference this afternoon to discuss the case, and today’s verdict.Vilsack says judgement day has not yet come for the person who is responsible for murdering Duis, and the Governor says that judgement day may not come in this lifetime.Vilsack, who revealed his own memories of childhood abuse during a town meeting after the child’s death, told reporters he was beset by a range of emotions when he learned of the verdict.Vilsack says policymakers are working to improve the child protection system, which failed Shelby. Vilsack told reporters state confidentiality laws prevent him from discussing many aspects of the case.Three separate reviews were sparked in the wake of the toddler’s death. He says internal review suggested the need for more training and better communication and training for those in the system.And Vilsack says the testimony from the trial reveals all sorts of people had “bits and pieces” of information about Shelby’s abuse, but no one person in a decision-making position was armed with all that information.
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