WEST UNION — The Fayette County District Court trial of a rural Westgate man charged with first-degree murder in the 2018 death of an infant has been rescheduled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
In the meantime, the court must rule on admissibility of evidence of fighting between Dean Alan Hettinger and his girlfriend prior to her bringing the child to their home to foster.
Hettinger, 22, was arrested May 16, 2019, following a nearly year-long investigation into the death of the 4-week-old Holten Smith. He is charged with first-degree murder and child endangerment resulting in death and is facing the possibility of life in prison.
Hettinger’s trial had been scheduled to begin on April 13, but is now scheduled to begin at 9 a.m., June 1, at the county courthouse in West Union.
District Court Judge Richard D. Stochl issued the order on March 16 to delay the trial because of the order by the Iowa Supreme Court to continue all criminal jury trials scheduled before April 20. Through that and other moves, the high court aims to limit in-person contact to mitigate the spread of the virus.
Hettinger is accused of injuring the child during weekend of April 27-29, 2018, seriously enough that he was transported to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City, where Holton died on May 27, 2018.
Holton was born April 2, 2018.
An autopsy found that the infant had 36 rib fractures, and his injuries were consistent with inflicted trauma, according to the criminal complaint.
Hettinger is being represented by Public Defender Aaron Hawbaker.
The Iowa Attorney General’s Office and the Fayette County Attorney’s office are prosecuting this case with the state agency taking the lead.
The court has a decision to make prior to the trial regarding evidence. Hettinger’s defense filed a motion on March 13 seeking to exclude from the trial any evidence regarding “prior fighting” between Hettinger and his girlfriend “leading up to the alleged crime charged,” claiming that would be inadmissible hearsay and uncharged conduct.
The motion in limine also seeks to prevent admission of “opinion testimony from witnesses regarding” Hettinger’s conduct.
Prosecution contests in a court filing that such evidence would be hearsay. Instead, it would be pertinent in proving Hettinger’s state of mind.
The filing also said that his girlfriend has brought the infant into the home to foster.
“The State expects to show that [Hettinger] was hostile to the introduction of the victim to his home, and this generated or was part of several arguments (“fights”) with [his girlfriend]. The State expects to show the severity and hostility of these argument increased closer to the time of assault on the victim,” says the filing by Assistant Attorney General Monty C. Platz.