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Charges: Elise Nelson Murdered Chronically Ill Child After Tempering With Oximeter, Depriving Care

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- A central Minnesota mother is accused of murdering her teenage daughter who suffered from chronic respiratory issues by tampering with medical equipment and depriving care.

Elise Nelson, 35, of Paynesville, is charged with second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the June death of her daughter, an arrest warrant issued this week in Stearns County shows. An obituary identified the daughter as 13-year-old Kylie Larson.

According to a criminal complaint, Larson died on June 21 after spending the weekend in the care of her mother. Since birth, when Larson suffered serious medical issues due to oxygen loss, she had required around-the-clock medical care, generally undertaken by her mother, other relatives and in-house nurses.

When first responders arrived at Nelson's home after she called 911, they found that the teenager had blood pooling on the back of her legs, a sign that she had been dead for some time. At the hospital, Nelson told doctors that Larson flatlined that morning and she had performed CPR on her for roughly an hour before calling police.

But the data on Larson's pulse oximeter, a device that attaches to the finger and monitors pulse and blood oxygen saturation levels, told a different story.

According to the machine, which investigators sent to Medtronic to make sure it was properly working, Nelson repeatedly silenced alarms warning that the child's blood oxygen levels were dropping. Typically, alarms go off when the levels drop below 90%. They can be silenced for a minute, but will go off again if levels don't pick up or if the machine is reconfigured.

Not only did Nelson silence the alarms, but she manually dropped the alarm threshold to lower and lower percentages, the complaint states. The teenager's nurses told investigators that there was no medical reason to drop the threshold below 90%.

The first time Nelson lowered the levels was on the morning of June 20. Over the next 24 hours, she gradually lowered the threshold level until the machine had been reconfigured to go off only if Larson's blood oxygen levels dropped below 74%. Twice, Nelson turned off Larson's oximeter for several hours at a time. "With the machine off, nothing monitored the child's oxygen saturation levels or pulse rates," the complaint states.

According to the machine data, Larson's last pulse signal was detected at 6:43 a.m. on June 21. Ten minutes later, the alarm threshold was manually raised back to 90% and the sensor was removed from the girl's finger. Not for another six hours would Nelson call 911.

The Midwestern Medical Examiner's Office determined that the child's manner of death was homicide due to Nelson intentionally depriving care.

Nelson made her first court appearance Wednesday. Her bail was set at $350,000. If convicted of the murder charge, she faces up to 40 years in prison.

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