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Published May 26, 2010, 02:43 PM

Man convicted of killing toddler in church fight

WHEATON, Minn. (AP) — A western Minnesota man was found guilty Wednesday of killing a toddler while swinging a baseball bat at her stepfather inside a church, a clash that prosecutors said stemmed from fight over a $20 debt and home appliances.

David Collins, 50, of Wheaton, waived his right to a jury trial and was convicted by Traverse County District Judge Gerald Seibel of unintentional second-degree felony murder and second-degree assault. He was acquitted of intentional second-degree murder.

Sentencing is scheduled for June 21. State guidelines recommend a sentence around 17½ years.

Collins was accused of striking 14-month-old Aundrea Brownlow after he got into a fight with her stepfather, Claude Hankins, at Thy Kingdom Come World Ministries in Wheaton last September. Prosecutors said Collins stormed the church and tried to attack the girl's father over $20 that Hankins owed Collins and a dispute about a washer and dryer.

Collins testified last week that he went to the church to beat up Aundrea's stepfather but didn't intend to kill him. His first swing missed Hankins and instead hit the girl, cracking her skull.

Aundrea's mother, Sherri Hankins, told KSAX-TV that she was still "processing" the verdict Wednesday. She said she would speak during Collins' sentencing hearing, the same day Aundrea would have turned 2.

Wheaton, a town of about 1,400 residents, is near Minnesota's border with the Dakotas.

At the time of the attack, the now-closed church, which catered partly to people with drug and alcohol addictions, was led by the Rev. Danny Barnes. He found Collins several hours after the fight at a bar about 100 miles away in Brookings, S.D.

Barnes is serving an 11-year sentence for kidnapping, assault and burglary in an unrelated home invasion case. During a bench trial in January, the judge determined that Barnes was armed when he and other church members kidnapped his son-in-law last June. Barnes claimed he was just trying to get his son-in-law into treatment for substance abuse.

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