updated 10/9/2009 4:47:50 PM ET 2009-10-09T20:47:50

A jury acquitted a father charged with involuntary manslaughter in the hypothermia death of his 11-year-old daughter last Christmas.

Robert Aragon was also found not guilty Friday of felony injury to a child after the jury deliberated for two hours.

Aragon was accused of allowing his two young children to walk several miles in freezing conditions along an isolated rural highway on Christmas Day. His son suffered hypothermia but survived. The girl did not.

Aragon was driving his 11-year-old daughter, Sage, and son, Bear, who was 12, to see their mother on Christmas Day last year when his car got stuck in the snow.

The children tried to walk the remaining 10 miles to their mother's house. Officials said temperatures in the area at the time the girl was missing ranged from 27 degrees to minus 5 Fahrenheit.

Jury deliberations began Friday morning after the prosecutor showed images, barred from the public under a judge’s order, to the jury.

The children lived with Aragon in Jerome, a tiny community in the heart of the Idaho dairy industry, and he was driving them to see their mother on Christmas morning when the car hit ice and slid into the snow bank, Bear testified.

The boy said he decided to set out on his own and walk because he wanted to find help for his father. Sage decided to go with him.

Girl's curled body found covered in snow
Sage died of hypothermia. Bear survived after taking shelter in a single-stall restroom.

The prosecutor repeated the children’s ages throughout his argument and detailed how a cadaver dog found the dead girl curled up by a barbed wire fence, covered in snow.

“Sage froze to death, alone, in the horrible weather as a result of the defendants’ decision,” Paul said, adding that Aragon was “supposed to protect his children and he failed.”

Public defender Patrick McMillen described how Aragon spent between two to three hours digging his car out of the snow after it got stuck, while the children sat in the back seat.

It was Bear who decided to start walking, McMillen said, and the father was likely suffering from hypothermia, which causes confusion and poor judgment.

McMillen also said the children were bounding with energy when they left the car and stopped to make snow angels along the road.

“There’s a difference between a tragedy and a felony,” McMillen told jurors.

“There is no one in this courtroom who feels worse about Sage’s death than that man,” he said pointing at Aragon, who kept his head down during the closing arguments.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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