By Ryan Lewallen, County 17
A Gillette man accused of breaking dozens of his infant son’s bones pled not guilty to 31 counts of felony aggravated child abuse in District Court this week, according to his attorney.
Tyler Martinson, 28, was arraigned on the charges before District Court Judge Stuart S. Healy III on Tuesday, May 18, approximately two weeks after waiving his preliminary hearing in Campbell County Circuit Court on May 4.
During the arraignment, Martinson pled not guilty to all 31 counts of felony abuse, confirmed Criminal Defense Attorney Denise Urbin, who is representing Martinson in the case and declined to comment on the reasons behind her client waiving his preliminary trial in Circuit Court.
Martinson’s case will now be subject to a pre-trial conference, given his plea. Once that is concluded, a date for a trial will be set. If convicted during his trial, Martinson could face up to 25 years in prison for each count filed against him, a total of 775 years.
The charges against Martinson were filed in January 2021 after Martinson and 28-year-old Keasha Bullinger took their then 3-month-old son to the emergency room at the Campbell County Memorial Hospital.
An affidavit of probable cause filed in the case states that Martinson and Bullinger were concerned because the infant’s ribs were popping and swollen and he wasn’t using his right leg, which was splayed to the side.
Medical examinations revealed the baby suffered from 26 separate fractures on his ribs and five leg fractures, all of which were in various stages of healing that indicated the injuries had been inflicted over time, per the affidavit, which adds that a doctor noted the force necessary to break the bones was equal to forces experienced in a violent car crash.
The injuries came from “high speed, brute force trauma” such as extreme squeezing or shaking of the baby’s torso and twisting or snapping of his legs, the affidavit states.
When asked by medical examiners to explain what had happened, Martinson reportedly admitted that he “might have been a little rough” when handling the baby, according to the affidavit.
The affidavit further states that Martinson stated he did not know how to pick up or handle a baby and may have injured him several times over the course of three months.
In a separate affidavit of probable cause filed against Bullinger relating to the case, investigators reportedly were informed that the baby would scream in terror whenever Martinson walked into the room.
Bullinger also allegedly described an incident from several weeks prior of her walking into a room, while Martinson was supposedly changing the baby’s diaper, to find their son making “gurgling sounds” from blood in his mouth, per the affidavit, adding that the baby had defecated on Martinson moments before.
“You need to understand that, at this point, he’s so used to you hurting him that he sees your face and he feels like he’s about to get hurt. He’s not dumb, they can’t do a whole lot, but I think he’d be able to recognize that,” Bullinger recalled telling Martinson, according to the affidavit.
While being interviewed by investigators, Martinson reportedly said that he would often get irritated at the baby and squeeze him; bruises that were consistent with fingertips were observed across the baby’s chest and back, per the affidavit.
Bullinger also admitted to observing the bruising, according to the affidavit, and told investigators that she would often “get up in Tyler’s face about it” whenever she saw them.
She herself had been initially charged with a felony for endangering the baby by leaving him in the care of Martinson despite knowing of the alleged abuse. The charge was later changed to reflect the prosecution’s belief that she had coached her other child on what to say during a forensic interview regarding Martinson’s case
That charge was ultimately dismissed on Feb. 26 by Circuit Court Judge Wendy Bartlett, who deemed Campbell County Attorney Mitch Damsky had satisfied the state’s burden of proof to support the charge.
Social media comments on a story written about Bullinger’s court proceedings have indicated that the baby is in her custody, despite her facing several charges for misdemeanor counts of child abuse.