Meridian, ID mom sent to prison after killing 2-month-old


Danielle Radue reacts to hearing details of the injuries that led to her son’s death during her sentencing in the Idaho Fourth Judicial District Court at the Ada County Courthouse on Friday.

At 11:28 p.m. on March 9, 2020, Adam McKinney said his life was complete. His son, Dawson, had just been born.

“I knew Dawson was going to change the world. I knew Dawson had already changed my life and the lives of so many others in just the first few minutes of his life,” McKinney said to a courtroom full of people Friday. “I knew that any darkness or any problems seemed so small compared to this beautiful life I had just seen come into this world — and that I had helped create.”

A little over two months later, at 6:08 p.m. on May 15, Dawson McKinney took his last breath in his father’s arms.

Dawson’s death was labeled a homicide, and happened at the hands of his mother, Danielle Radue. The 28-year-old woman was sentenced Friday for first-degree murder in the death of her son.

Just before Fourth District Judge Patrick Miller handed down Radue’s sentence, her family members at the Ada County Courthouse moved in closer together as they held back tears. Then they listened as Miller sentenced Radue to up life in prison, but with eligibility for parole after 18 years.

The minimum sentence Radue could have faced under Idaho law was 10 years in prison.

Radue entered an Alford plea in April 2022, according to court records. An Alford plea carries the weight of a guilty plea, but means Radue did not admit to committing the crime.

“When we think about the goals of sentencing and the impact of victims, certainly Adam (McKinney), I can’t imagine,” Miller said. “I am a father. I remember when my first child was born, he was in an ICU for 10 days, and I remember the fear of not having my child live.”

Cries could be heard from Radue — who looked back at her new husband, Trevor Farmer, with a tear-stained face — as authorities immediately took her into custody.

Friday’s seven-and-a-half-hour sentencing hearing took place more than two years since the killing of 2-month-old Dawson. Roughly 20 family members and friends of both McKinney and Radue filled the courtroom and sat through multiple witnesses and statements from the prosecution and defense.

“Dawson ultimately passed away — while in my arms — in his daddy’s arms, he took his last breath,” McKinney said, sniffling back tears Friday. “In that moment, I took my last breath, too. Dawson’s death caused my death emotionally and mentally.”

Fourth District Judge Patrick Miller swears in a witness over a computer screen during the sentencing of Danielle Radue on Friday. Sarah A. Miller

Events surrounding Dawson’s death still unclear

McKinney had come home mid-morning on May 11, 2020, to help with his son. Just before leaving to go back to work, he fed Dawson and put him back in his swing inside the home, Ada County Deputy Prosecutor Kai Erik Wittwer said in court Friday.

Approximately six minutes after McKinney left, Radue ran out of their Meridian home with Dawson, who appeared “limp” and “lifeless” on video footage from a Google Nest camera, Wittwer said.

What exactly took place in those six minutes is unclear.

Paramedics were called to the 2000 block of North Swainson Avenue for an unresponsive baby, police have previously said. It was the EMTs who made the decision to alert police.

Authorities were initially told the emergency was a “Code Blue,” which means a respiratory or cardiac arrest incident, according to court documents obtained by the Idaho Statesman.

After some initial medical services were provided, the child was taken to St. Luke’s Meridian Medical Center — where health professionals discovered the boy had a skull fracture, court records showed. He was then transferred to the Pediatric Intensive Center at St. Luke’s Boise Medical Center, where an examination by medical staff found Dawson’s injuries were a result of “non-accidental trauma.”

He died after five days in critical care.

Radue initially told authorities that she found Dawson “not acting quite right,” Wittwer said in court. And at one point, Radue told McKinney that their dog had jumped up on the couch, which caused Dawson to roll off.

Meridian Police Department detectives interviewed Radue at both the Meridian and Boise hospitals, where she provided “different information regarding what happened,” according to a court document previously submitted by the Ada County Prosecutor’s Office.

Radue eventually told police that she placed a crying or screaming Dawson on the floor “much harder than she intended” after taking him off the diaper changing table.

McKinney said in court Friday that since Radue changed her story of what happened to Dawson so many times, he doesn’t know what to believe.

“I can’t tell people what happened to my son,” McKinney said.

Miller said during Friday’s hearing that the idea that in under 10 minutes, Radue got Dawson out of his swing, took him to the changing table and then couldn’t get him calmed down, which caused the head trauma, and then subsequently went to a neighbor’s house to call 911, was an “awfully fast reaction.”

Miller said that the legal strategies Radue and her attorney used to help defend Radue’s case made it so that authorities never got a complete story. Miller also said he doesn’t hold Radue’s legal tactics against her.

“Frankly, today, I still don’t know what happened that day,” Miller said Friday.

But Miller said the testimony presented in court by St. Luke’s Child Abuse Pediatrics Specialist Matthew Cox, who is commonly called as an expert witness by Ada County prosecutors, and medical documents showed that it “was a very violent force” that caused Dawson’s death.

Attorney Edwina Elcox, who is representing Danielle Radue, reads through a document during her client’s sentencing on Friday. Sarah A. Miller

Expert said ‘perfect storm’ led to Dawson’s death

The day before the battery that led to Dawson’s death was Mother’s Day. Radue, who read from a prepared statement just before she was sentenced, said she got the greatest gift that day.

Radue said she had just finished changing Dawson when he looked up at her and gave her the “biggest gummiest smile” for the first time.

“I’m lucky to have that personal memory to hold on to,” Radue said. “He was so loved by everyone, and I can’t put into words how hurt I am that his days were so short on this Earth.”

During her statement, Radue acknowledged that she had the power to take measures into her own hands to prevent “this tragedy from happening.” Radue said she battled severe postpartum anxiety and insomnia and said she still has trouble piecing together that day.

A large part of Radue’s defense at sentencing was that her mental condition contributed to Dawson’s death. Expert witness testimony from Nicole Cirino, the director of the Division of Women’s Mental Health and Wellness at Oregon Health and Science University, and arguments presented by Radue’s attorney, Edwina Elcox, backed that theory.

Cirino said Friday, via Zoom, that she evaluated Radue on three occasions and diagnosed her with postpartum depression. Cirino said Radue’s symptoms included high anxiety and hypervigilance with her son, and that she sometimes saw danger when there possibly wasn’t any, which led to her insomnia.

Cirino testified that Radue’s untreated psychiatric problems, the COVID-19 pandemic and Radue’s naivete around mental illness created a “perfect storm of events.”

“It is very, very rare for a woman with a prenatal psychiatric condition to harm her child,” Cirino testified.

An important part of Cirino’s diagnosis relied on the fact that Radue allegedly suffered previous trauma that exacerbated her mental illness and caused her to have PTSD, which then worsened her postpartum depression. Radue alleged that McKinney physically abused her.

McKinney, in court, denied Radue’s claims.

“(Radue) claimed that I was an abusive husband because she cannot accept responsibility for her actions,” McKinney said in court Friday. “(Radue) is spoiled, she always has been. She’s been bailed out of her problems time and time again.”

The judge said he reviewed extensive text messages between Radue and McKinney and found no indication that McKinney was abusive. The text messages dated to before Radue’s pregnancy. Miller also noted that Radue had an affair, and it sparked tension between the couple.

“I do hope that I can be given the earliest chance to reenter society, which is still no guarantee with a life sentence,” Radue said. “But no life sentence will hurt as much as the life sentence I’m living without my son.”

This story was originally published July 23, 2022 6:35 PM.

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Alex Brizee covers breaking news and crime for the Idaho Statesman. A Miami native and a University of Idaho graduate, she has lived all over the United States. Go Vandals! In her free time, she loves pad Thai, cuddling with her dog and strong coffee.
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