|On March 16, 1999, her attending
obstetrician, Dr. Daniel Aronson, admitted Sarah Pudelski, 37 weeks pregnant,
to Hillcrest Hospital. Dr. Aronson diagnosed pregnancy-induced hypertension
and noted Sarah's worsening condition. After 34 hours, Dr. Aronson determined
that delivery by cesarean section was necessary. Because of complicating
factors, Dr. William Zaia, a neonatologist, was also present in the delivery
room. Elly was not breathing for the first minute of her life. Elly needed
to be "kicked started" through the use of an oxygen bag and a mask, and
Elly remained at the hospital until March 20, 1999 and was examined and observed by a variety of medical personnel whose reported findings were not totally consistent.
At approximately 7:00 am on March 29, 1999, Sarah alerted John that Elly appeared unresponsive and cold. John called 911 and attempted resuscitation. EMS transported Elly to Meridia Euclid Hospital where Dr. Kerry Scott found no signs of life. Dr. Scott pronounced Elly dead. Dr. Scott completed a form relating to Elly's death indicating no noticeable injuries, concluding sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) as probably cause of death.
Dr. Joseph Felo, a Cuyahoga County deputy coroner for approximately nine months, began Elly's autopsy on March 30, 1999. Dr. Felo did not review nor did he have knowledge of Sarah's complicated and prolonged labor, accepting as true (incorrect) statements from Euclid Police relating a normal birth. Dr. Felo did not review any medical records prior to performing his autopsy.
X-rays revealed a linear, four inch skull fracture with no gross intricranial injuries, on the side of Elly's head without signs of healing. Dr. Felo estimated the death occurred three to four hours following the "injury."
Dr. Felo claimed that Elly died close to 3:00 am. Dr. Felo ruled out SIDS as the cause of death and concluded on April 2, 1999, that Elly died as a result of cerebral edema due to a single blunt impact to the head with a skull fracture and the scalp hemorrhage. The coroner's office conducted no independent investigation nor did it interview Sarah or John.
At police request, Sarah and John went to Euclid Police Station. Upon entering the police station the Pudelskis were separated, Sarah going with Sergeant Pestak and John going with Jorz and Lt. Brooks. When Jorz confronted John with this unexpected distressing information, John explained the circumstances of Elly's birth and the prolonged labor before it. He was told this was a more recent fracture and when John can offer no explanation for a recent fracture, Jorz read John Miranda warnings, providing him with a corresponding form to sign. Upon reviewing this form, John requested to speak with a lawyer at which moment John was no longer free to leave. Jorz concluded Elly had been murdered and Jorz arrested John for this crime. John was arraigned on April 1, 1999 even before Dr. Felo reached his conclusions.
John's defense consisted of evidence from three prominent medical experts and character testimony. One of these, Dr. Robert Kiwi, chief of obstetrics and gynecology at University Hospitals of Cleveland, concluded that [Elly's skull] fracture was more likely than not, to have occurred at the time of birth rather than as an acute injury at or near the time of death, because he did not see any evidence that this was an acute injury.
Dr. Jan Leesma, Board certified in anatomic pathology and neuropathology, testified that Elly did not die as a result of blunt force trauma leading to cerebral edema, but with the trauma of birthing process causing the skull fracture.
Dr. Michael Baden, Board certified in anatomic pathology, clinical pathology, and forensic pathology, found Elly's brain normal at autopsy (and during life) and that she did not die of any brain abnormality, nor was her death a homicide.
John's remaining evidence consisted of character witnesses including his employer, his former wife, his former mother-in-law, and his mother. Following the submission of the defense exhibits, John rested and renewed his motion for Judgment of Acquittal, which the trial court overruled. The State presented rebuttal evidence challenging the medical testimony of Drs. Kiwi, Leesma, and Badin. The jury returned its verdict acquitting John of aggravated murder, finding John guilty of murder. John filed a motion for Post-Verdict Judgment of Acquittal on in the alternative for a New Trial, which the court denied. The court sentenced John to a term of imprisonment of fifteen years to life.
John filed a second motion for New Trial based on Newly Discovered Evidence, photographs taken the day after Elly's birth. These revealing pictures exhibited a large bruise on Elly's head, a bruise overlooked by all of the state's witnesses who testified that such a bruise did not exist.
The court concluded a two-day hearing wherein additional medical experts testified and a computer generated digital recreation confirmed the fracture's location underneath the bruised area as reflected in the newly discovered pictures, further supporting the defense evidence that the fracture was caused at birth. The trial court overruled John's motion for new trial. John timely appealed the Judgment of Conviction and the denials of his motion for new trial.
At no time did the state produce evidence, let alone beyond a reasonable doubt, that Elly's death resulted from or through criminal agency, that John inflicted injury or caused the injury, all of which are necessary to sustain conviction.
views and opinions expressed on this site are not necessarily
those of the IIAO, however, wrongful conviction and
imprisonment are quite obvious.
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