FRESNO — A paroled child abuser was convicted Thursday of murdering his 4-year-old son and burying him in a shallow grave in a case that has led California to consider notifying social workers when inmates get out of prison.
Douglas A. Haaland Jr. was charged with beating his son, Dustin, to death Nov. 23, 1998, after the boy refused to pick up his toys. Haaland, 27, was on parole at the time after serving time for beating his oldest son. He could be sentenced to life in prison for Dustin's murder.
The killing led to "Dustin's Law," designed to protect children from convicted abusers. A stronger version is being considered by the Legislature after a state audit found the original law too weak.
Testimony in Fresno Superior Court focused on the grim and abusive life of the Haaland family, living in subsidized housing and supported by welfare and child support checks.
"These children were inconvenient sources of income," prosecutor Burton Francis said Tuesday in his closing argument. "These . . . children were supporting these people."
The key prosecution witness was Haaland's wife, Kathy, who was spared murder charges after striking a deal with prosecutors to plead guilty to child endangerment and testify against her husband. She faces a sentence ranging from probation to eight years in prison.
Kathy Haaland testified that her raging husband rammed Dustin's head into a bedroom wall because he was disobedient. When she told him to stop, he hit her.
The couple said they tried to give the boy mouth-to-mouth resuscitation as he lay convulsing on the floor, turning blue. When efforts to revive him failed, they put the boy in a closet and later took him in a box to a remote vineyard where he was buried in a shallow grave.
The Haalands--who told police the boy had disappeared during a walk in the park--were taken into custody three days after the body was discovered Jan. 12 last year.