MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- A man who confessed to killing his girlfriend's 3-year-old daughter now says someone else killed the girl. He is also suing authorities he claims violated his rights when they refused his requests for an attorney and instead continued to question him about the crime.
Dale Jenson pleaded guilty in September 1999 to second-degree manslaughter in Jessica Swanson's death and was sentenced to four years in prison. At the time, he said he accidentally killed Jessica after she wet her bed, then hid her body in a rural area near Cannon Falls, where it went undiscovered until he confessed and led authorities to the body.
In his lawsuit, filed in federal court here, Jenson is seeking damages that include a $100 penalty from each defendant for each alleged violation of his right to assistance of counsel.
In a related development, Jenson has implicated someone else in Jessica's death, his former defense attorney said Tuesday.
Jenson told her in May of last year that the girl's mother, Michelle Swanson, was responsible. The attorney, Mary Wingfield, said Jenson told her Swanson caused the death by falling on Jessica and later threatened to make it look as if Jenson was responsible.
Despite the lawsuit and his claim he didn't kill Jessica, Wingfield said, Jenson doesn't plan to withdraw his plea. She said he filed the lawsuit because "he never got his story out. And the story is, quite frankly, he didn't do it."
Swanson, who now lives in Wadena, would not comment. But Jon Iverson, who's representing Goodhue County in the lawsuit, dismissed Jenson's claims about who killed the girl.
"We've got a convicted felon saying he perjured himself to take a plea agreement which he swore under oath and confessed to. Let's talk credibility," Iverson said.
Jenson was long the main suspect in the toddler's June 1995 disappearance. He was questioned 20 times. But he didn't confess until August of 1999, when authorities conspired to "push the envelope" and refused to stop the interrogation when he requested an attorney, the lawsuit alleges.
The defendants include law enforcement officials in Goodhue County, including Sheriff Dean Albers and County Attorney Stephen Betcher, and Milwaukee-based FBI Special Agent Daniel Craft, who interrogated Jenson.
Craft later testified in an unrelated Milwaukee case in 1999 that Goodhue County authorities told him to do whatever was necessary to get a confession from Jenson.
Albers, Betcher and Jenson's attorney for the civil case, Ted Dooley of Minneapolis, declined to comment on the lawsuit. Craft and the Milwaukee FBI office also had no comment on the lawsuit, spokesman Barry Babler said Tuesday.
Washington County Attorney Doug Johnson, who reviewed the circumstances surrounding the confession last year, said the FBI agent's conduct was the most blatant violation of a suspect's constitutional right to a lawyer he had seen in 27 years of practicing law. But Johnson decided that the officers involved could not face criminal charges because no state law requires police to stop questioning a suspect who asks for a lawyer.
In May, the Minnesota Court of Appeals concluded that the same FBI agent had illegally obtained a confession in a separate Houston County case because the defendant was in custody and authorities had violated his constitutional right to remain silent. A three-judge panel ruled that jurors should not have seen Harold "Howey" Kramer Jr.'s videotaped confession in the killing of his 3-year-old son, Kenny, but declined to grant him a new trial.
Minneapolis criminal defense attorney Bob Sicoli said Jenson might have a strong case on legal grounds but would have a hard time persuading jurors to award damages because of his crime.
"You don't want police officers denying your right to have an attorney, because in those circumstances the state can coerce confessions out of people, even false confessions," Sicoli said. "Once you ask for an attorney, you're supposed to get one."
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