Bemidji woman pleads not guilty in 6-year-old girl's freezing death


A Bemidji woman will stand trial on charges she allowed her 6-year-old cousin to freeze to death outside an apartment building more than a year ago.

Rachel Downer, 23, appeared in Beltrami County court Monday and entered a not guilty plea to one count of manslaughter, the Associated Press reports. She had been temporarily declared mentally incompetent to stand trial last year.

Downer was charged in March 2014 after her cousin, Mercedes Mayfield, was found dead from hypothermia on Feb. 27, 2014, outside the apartment building where she lived. The girl was in Downer’s care the night before she was found.

According to the criminal complaint, Downer was planning to take Mayfield to her own home to babysit her, but changed her mind once they got outside the building.

Downer told police she thought Mayfield had gone back inside the apartment building before she drove away. But it turns out the girl couldn’t get back in because the door was locked.

Mayfield’s mother found the girl on the front step the next morning. Officials say she died of hypothermia due to the extreme cold. The temperature that night reached 27 degrees below zero.

Downer was ruled incompetent to stand trial about a year ago, based on a psychologist's report, and the case against her was suspended at that time.

It's unclear exactly why Downer was deemed unfit, but after such a ruling, defendants typically are treated for their condition in hopes of restoring them to competency.

Downer is scheduled to make her next court appearance on Aug. 18, at which time a trial date will be set, MPR News reports.

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