The Minnesota Court of Appeals denied an Austin man's request to reverse his conviction and allow him to withdraw his guilty plea in a 2018 assault case that left an infant severely injured.

Nathaniel Ambrose, 26, pleaded guilty in October 2019 in Mower County District Court to first-degree assault-great bodily harm. As part of the guilty plea, Ambrose filed an "Alford addendum," meaning that he maintained his innocence but admitted that there was a substantial likelihood a jury would find him guilty of the offense.

In January 2020, he was sentenced by Judge Jeffrey Kritzer to 86 months in prison. As part of his sentence, he was also ordered to pay $46,060.87 in restitution. Ambrose received credit for 94 days he already served.

Ambrose appealed his case, arguing that the factual basis for his plea was deficient because the state failed to establish that his actions “caused the great bodily harm.” On Monday, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled in a nonprecedential opinion that the factual basis was sufficient to support the conviction.

Lyle police received a call from Olmsted Medical Center on Aug. 25, 2018, for a report of an 8-week-old boy who had been physically abused. The baby had been taken to OMC by his mother and then transferred by ambulance to Mayo Clinic Hospital-Saint Marys. Doctors later determined the baby had suffered intracranial bleeding, facial/head bruising, fractures to a forearm and hand as well as injuries to his buttock and groin area, according to court documents.

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When interviewed by police, Ambrose said he heard the child coughing or choking and saw that the baby was coughing up blood so he cleaned the child. The baby seemed "limp" and Ambrose tried to revive him and said that he "lightly tapped" the baby's cheek and shook the baby, who then "came back to," court documents read. Ambrose described the shake as not a "rough shaking" and said he did not mean to shake the baby, but was panicked and frightened because the infant was bleeding and nonresponsive.

The appeal

In his appeal, Ambrose argued the guilty plea was inaccurate because the district court failed to conduct an independent examination as required by the Alford plea procedure and that the plea-hearing evidence did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he caused the baby's injuries.

"Ambrose agrees that the plea-hearing evidence established (the infant) suffered great bodily harm, but contends that the evidence is insufficient to prove that he caused (the infant's) injuries," the court ruling reads. "Ambrose argues that the plea-hearing evidence is insufficient because he never admitted that he caused (the infant's) injuries and the state’s exhibits did not prove causation. We are not persuaded."

The court found that plea-hearing evidence established that Ambrose was the only caregiver for the infant on the day he was injured as well as the day before. The court also found that evidence showed that the baby's injuries were recent and consistent with being shaken, that Ambrose admitted that he shook the child and the medical evidence ruled out other causes of the baby's injuries.

"We conclude that the factual basis was sufficient to support Ambrose’s conviction of first-degree assault," the ruling reads. "As a result, Ambrose’s guilty plea is accurate and therefore valid."