MOTHER CONVICTED OF LESSER CHARGE IN SON'S DEATH

Relates to:
Date: 2003-10-09

Author: MATT GRYTA - News Staff Reporter

Jessica Vitale-Elgie today was found not guilty of criminally negligent homicide but convicted of a misdemeanor child endangerment charge in the death of her 5-year-old son three years ago.

State Supreme Court Justice Joseph S. Forma, who completed a five-day nonjury trial a week ago, stressed the lack of physical evidence and the testimony of Vitale-Elgie's estranged husband and her next-door neighbor in finding her not guilty of the felony charge, which would have carried a possible four-year prison term.

In convicting her of the misdemeanor charge, the judge cited the testimony of former Amherst Police Investigator Joseph B. Scioli that Vitale-Elgie belatedly admitted she should have called doctors or 911 when her son became violently ill after ingesting laundry detergent.

Forma allowed Vitale-Elgie, 39, to remain free on $2,500 previously posted bail pending her Jan. 8 sentencing.

Forma declined to comment when asked if he will impose a one-year local jail term or place her on probation.

The judge said that he had to struggle with the case and that any case involving the death of a child is "the worst burden" any judge has to handle.

Vitale-Elgie currently is on a paid leave from her job as a special-education teacher in the Buffalo school system.

She was belatedly indicted on the negligent homicide charge about 18 months after Casey Elgie died, late on Aug. 31, 2000.

According to evidence and testimony, Casey, who was small for his age and weighed only 30 pounds, died about 10 hours after he ingested some laundry detergent she had left in a bucket to presoak laundry on the patio of the the family's Amherst home.

She pleaded guilty last Dec. 2 but withdrew the plea in March after being told by another judge she faced a state prison term.

Testifying under subpoena from his estranged wife's attorneys, William Elgie, 41, told the judge Casey was fine when he returned home at about 5:30 p.m. the day of the boy's death and he admitted stopping his wife from making a 911 emergency call after Casey collapsed in their bathroom.

Vitale-Elgie did not testify at the brief trial. Her estranged husband was not in court today for the verdict, which came after the judge noted the only medical evidence presented by prosecutors stemmed from doctors who didn't treat Casey until the boy was already clinically dead.

In his verdict, the judge cited William Elgie's failure to try to portray his estranged spouse as a "careless mother" and his observations of Casey as looking healthy about an hour before the boy went into cardiac arrest. The judge also pointed to the lack of physical evidence to prove that the fatal aspiration pneumonia and excessive sodium in his system, which was found to be the cause of Casey's death, was directly as a result of either his ingestion of laundry detergent or actions by Vitale-Elgie.

Vitale-Elgie, who now lives in Kenmore, has been allowed only supervised visits with her three surviving children, a 9-year-old daughter and 4-year-old twin sons. Casey was born in Vietnam and adopted by the Elgies.

e-mail: mgryta@buffnews.com

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