Paynesville mom charged with murder for tampering with child's medical equipment, warrant issued

A warrant is out for the arrest of a 35-year-old Paynesville, Minnesota woman facing a second-degree murder charge for the death of her 13-year-old child.

According to charges filed in Stearns County District Court, Elise Nelson’s child died after she tampered with the child’s oxygen level and pulse monitoring machine.

Police say the child had significant medical issues due to loss of oxygen, including cerebral palsy, respiratory failure and developmental delay. The child had required 24-hour medical care since birth, including use of a machine that sounds an alarm if the child’s oxygen level or pulse drops below a certain limit, but that limit can be manually changed.

Nelson was alone caring for the child the day she died, June 21. Nelson’s other child was staying with a family friend at the time.

The charges say the child’s oxygen and pulse levels were stable for two days, but that the alarm signaling her oxygen levels dropped to a worrisome level sounded just before 6 a.m.

Throughout the next 24 hours, the machine’s history indicates Nelson altered the child’s oxygen alarm limit from the standard 90% to as low as 74%.

At 7 a.m. on June 21, the child’s machine was raised back to 90%, but the sensor was removed from her. At 7:24 a.m., the machine was turned off.

According to police, Nelson’s family friend was trying to drop her other child back off later that morning, but could not get into the home. Nelson then texted the friend saying she had been doing CPR for an hour and that she was waiting for the police to arrive. The family friend and Nelson then talked on the phone for 17 minutes before Nelson called 911, which was her only call for emergency services.

Police arrived just before 1:15 p.m. and found the child lying on the living room floor. She was pronounced dead at the hospital at 1:50 p.m.

In a statement to police, Nelson said the girl “flatlined” after her oxygen levels dropped to 86 percent.

Both of the child’s part-time, in-home nurses said in statements to police there is no scenario that would require lowering the oxygen levels on the machine. 

Stearns County Sheriff’s Office investigators sent the machine’s data to Medtronic, which said the machine was working correctly.

The medical examiner’s office said the death was a homicide because Nelson intentionally deprived care to the child.

A warrant is out for Nelson’s arrest. She is not believed to be living at her Paynesville residences.