A jury found Matthew Benton Stevens of Helena not guilty of felony assault following his trial last week.
Stevens was charged with felony aggravated assault after police alleged that he purposely scalded a 1-year-old child in the shower in 2017. The jury deliberated for two-and-a-half hours before finding Stevens innocent of the charge that had loomed over him for four years.
The trial took place over the course of four days before District Court Judge Mike Menahan. Evidence presented in the trial was primarily photographs including injuries to the child. However, this was not enough to convince the jury that the state proved abuse beyond a reasonable doubt.
The incident that led to the charge took place on July 19, 2017. At that time a woman brought a 1-year-old child to the emergency room with severe burns on his bottom half and stomach. The child was flown to a children's hospital burn unit in Salt Lake City, Utah.
The mother told hospital staff at the time that Stevens had taken a shower with the child, because the child had been throwing up and was hot to the touch.
Court documents detail a later interview with the mother, who said she had walked down the hall while Stevens and the child were in the shower. Approximately two minutes later, she heard Stevens cry for help, and when she returned to the bathroom skin was coming off of the child's bottom. The mother said the child was not screaming or crying and that she felt the water, which she described as lukewarm.
Detectives examined the bathroom area and spoke with Stevens at this time. Stevens told detectives that he got into the shower with the child hoping to cool him off. He said he popped a boil on the child's back, and skin began to peel off.
Police alleged that Stevens "changed his story" during interviews. They also noted that he had no burns on his hands, which they photographed as evidence. Medical officials believed at the time that the injuries could not be reasonably explained by accident, medical condition, reasonable discipline or normal handling.