Police: Dad under suspicion wasn’t suspect in ’04 abuse

Dartanin D. Mitchell

In slightly less than seven years, a Grand Junction man’s name has been raised in three child-abuse investigations involving young children.

In the oldest case, Dartanin Mitchell, 33, was not eyed for involvement after an investigation, once closed, was opened again in 2008, authorities said Friday.

In the latest, he faces a “highly likely” first-degree murder charge, District Attorney Pete Hautzinger said Wednesday.

Mitchell along with his ex-wife, now 27-year-old Erin Despain, showed up together at Poudre Valley Hospital in November 2004 for treatment of a skull fracture suffered by their then 4-month-old daughter.  Mitchell eventually was ruled out as a suspect in the case, according to Rita Davis, Fort Collins Police Department spokeswoman.

“We had information he was not present at the time of injury,” she said.

Despain told doctors she tripped while carrying the infant in a car seat, causing Despain to fall. Doctors in Fort Collins and Denver disagreed on whether the skull fracture could have happened in the manner described by Despain, according to court records.

Ten days after the baby’s initial presentation at Poudre Valley Hospital, she was examined at Children’s Hospital in Denver. There, an X-ray showed the child had a healing rib fracture, estimated to be one to three weeks old.

“Neither (Despain) or Mr. Mitchell was able to provide an explanation for the cause of the rib fracture,” the records state.

The case didn’t result in criminal charges, but it was reopened after the same child showed up again at Poudre Valley Hospital in January 2005 with a broken wrist. The investigation, however, went nowhere when the detective on the case was reassigned inside the department for reasons unrelated to the probe, Davis said.

It wasn’t until January 2008, five months after Despain was arrested in Mesa County on suspicion of five counts of child abuse involving a 2-month-old daughter, that the case was opened again and presented to Larimer County prosecutors for consideration of charges, Davis said.

Despain pleaded guilty in the Mesa County case in June 2008 as part of a plea agreement that included guarantees that Larimer County wouldn’t prosecute their case. She is serving an eight-year prison sentence.

In the Mesa County case, Despain and Mitchell brought the injured child to St. Mary’s Hospital in May 2007.

Hautzinger on Wednesday said Mitchell, a former parenting mentor with Hilltop Community Resources, is the prime suspect in the death of his infant son, Lucius Lee Mitchell.

Lucius died of unspecified injuries June 12 at a Denver hospital, where the boy had been flown May 27 following a medical call at a home in the 2900 block of Bunting Avenue.


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