TRAVERSE CITY — A Traverse City man faces a murder charge in the death of a less than 1-month-old girl.

Thomas Gene Weatherholt, 21, appeared before 86th District Court Judge Thomas Phillips in Traverse City on Tuesday for a video arraignment hearing on one open murder charge. Grand Traverse County Prosecutor Bob Cooney said the charge would allow a jury to find Weatherholt not guilty, or convict him on a first-degree or second-degree murder charge, which are both felonies punishable by up to life in prison.

The charge arose after the girl — Weatherholt’s girlfriend’s daughter — died Sunday after being rushed from Munson Medical Center to Helen Devos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids. Munson staff determined the girl suffered a large skull fracture and other injuries, according to court records.

Grand Traverse sheriff’s Lt. Chris Barsheff expected the girl’s body to undergo an autopsy in Grand Rapids on Tuesday.

“We believe the cause of death is blunt force trauma,” Cooney said. “When we get the complete autopsy report and when we have a more complete investigation, I don’t even have a police report at this time … we will be looking at whether there might be some changes or additional charges.”

Court records show the girl’s mother put her to bed at 10 p.m. on Friday. The child — born Aug. 6, Barsheff said — appeared to be acting normally at the time and did not have any visible injuries. Weatherholt woke the child shortly after and took the crying infant outside, according to court records.

The mother followed about a minute later and yelled for Weatherholt for about 10 minutes. Weatherholt returned holding the silent child without her blanket, records indicate. He appeared concerned and said the girl “suddenly stopped crying” and fell asleep, according to court records.

Weatherholt placed the child in a “bouncy seat.” The mother found she was not breathing and appeared “ashen” and “pale,” court records indicate. She additionally found blood on the child’s clothing, according to court records.

Grand Traverse sheriff’s deputies and other emergency responders arrived and transported the child to Munson. Hospital personnel determined the girl suffered severe head trauma, including a large skull fracture that appeared “inconsistent with an accidental drop,” according to court records.

Personnel also reported “significant” swelling, bruising and redness on the child’s forehead and arms and a right arm injury, according to court records. She was transported to Grand Rapids where hospital personnel there determined the injuries to be “life ending” and “inoperable,” according to records.

The girl died at 2:04 a.m. Sunday, according to court records.

Weatherholt remains at Grand Traverse County’s jail. An attorney did not appear to be representing him by Tuesday afternoon.

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Staff writer