(Editor’s Note: The following article was submitted in part by the Sherburne County Attorney’s Office. Part of this article was the official police report).
A husband and wife pleaded guilty Monday morning to second-degree murder involving the death of a minor child in their care.
Sara and Brett Hallow each pleaded guilty to second degree murder with the predicate offense of third-degree assault. The girl in their care died Aug. 13, 2020 in the family’s Elk River apartment.
The Hallows are scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 23 by Sherburne County District Court Judge Karen Schommer.
According to the Sherburne County Sheriff’s Office, Elk River police were called at about 3:45 p.m. to The Depot at Elk River Station apartment complex, where they found 8-year-old Autumn Hallow unresponsive in one of the units.
The initial report indicated the girl was found partially submerged in the bathtub.
According to the criminal complaint, when officers arrived at the scene they were directed to the back bedroom of the apartment by 30-year-old Brett Jason Hallow. Officers observed 28-year-old Sarah Kay Hallow attempting chest compressions on the girl.
Officers reported the girl to be extremely frail and thin. They noticed her skin to be dry and her hair to be damp, her body was rigid and her fingers were blue.
Authorities performed life-saving measures, but were unsuccessful and she was pronounced dead at the scene.
Based on the condition of the girl’s body, law enforcement believed she had been dead for some time. They observed lacerations and pin-like marks on her forehead. She also appeared to have partial hair loss and bruising.
Law enforcement identified Brett as the victim’s father, and Sarah as her stepmother. Autumn lived with them in an apartment with three other children ages 3, 6, and 10.
BCA crime scene technicians used Luminol to determine there had been blood in various spots in the bathroom, with the most blood in the shower area.
Sarah told law enforcement that Autumn was going to take a shower in the bathtub. She stated she checked on her approximately 40 minutes later and saw her faced down in inches of water.
Sarah stated she took Autumn and placed her on the bathroom floor and yelled for Brett. She said Brett moved her to the bedroom floor and she called 911.
Law enforcement observed Sarah had a scratch on the side of her nose down toward the left side of her cheek.
On Aug. 14, investigators and child protection workers interviewed Brett’s 6-year-old son and Sarah’s 10-year-old daughter. The boy stated he observed Sarah and Brett often using a brown belt with lace ends to tie up Autumn and put her in a red sleeping bag.
The boy said Brett and Sarah would zip up the bag leaving only her head exposed. He also described a long gray shirt that would be used to tie her up as well.
He said she would sleep tied up when she was being bad — when she would urinate on the floor or in her clothing or would try to get food. He described her sleeping in the sleeping bag overnight in the living room, kitchen and on one occasion in the bathtub.
He last observed her in the sleeping bag several days prior.
The daughter had similar comments about the Hallows using the sleeping bag for punishment. Both children said Brett and Sarah were in the bathroom with Autumn that day.
The boy stated he heard Autumn screaming in the bathroom that morning and heard a loud “bang.”
In an interview on Aug. 14, Sarah denied any argument or yelling occurring between herself and Autumn that day. She denied knowing the source of Autumn’s injuries and continued to state she found her in the tub.
Sarah denied any clean-up had occurred in the bathroom. She admitted Autumn had been losing weight as well as her hair and estimated her weight to be 45 pounds. She acknowledged they did not bring her to a doctor.
Brett stated in an interview that his memory was not good concerning the events of that day. Both Brett and Sarah denied using the sleeping bag for discipline.
The Midwest Medical Examiner’s Office said the cause of death was asphyxial injuries and blunt force trauma, and ruled the death to be a homicide.