NEIGHBOR TESTIFIES IN CASE OF ADOPTED CHILD'S DEATH
Author: MATT GRYTA - News Staff Reporter
A neighbor saw the adopted son of Jessica Vitale-Elgie walking on the backyard patio of his Amherst home, reciting his alphabet about a half-hour after he stuck a sponge full of liquid laundry soap into his mouth.
This testimony surfaced Monday at the onset of Vitale-Elgie's nonjury negligent homicide trial before State Supreme Court Justice Joseph S. Forma.
Forma also directed a court-assigned law guardian for the Buffalo special-education teacher's adopted 9-year-old daughter, Marissa, to let prosecutors question the girl about those fatal events of three years ago.
Vitale-Elgie was charged with criminally negligent homicide about 18 months after the Aug. 31, 2000, death of Casey "C.J." Elgie, her adopted Vietnamese son, a day after the detergent incident. Vitale-Elgie, 39, could face four years in prison if found guilty.
Free on bail, she is on paid leave from her Buffalo school system post. She has court-approved visitation with her three other children.
Dr. Sung-ook Baik, who performed the autopsy on the boy, said he died of aspiration pneumonia because of the liquid detergent that clogged his lungs and excessive sodium in his system.
Next-door neighbor Garrett Milks testified he saw Vitale-Elgie confront the boy about the detergent-soaked sponge at about 3 p.m. Aug. 31, 2000. At the time, he said, he was standing about 20 feet away, in his own back yard.
Milks said the boy seemed fine. He said he heard Vitale-Elgie scold the boy, asking him if he "liked the way that tasted," but he said he walked away because, "I didn't want to seem like a nosey neighbor."
Milks told the judge he later saw the boy reciting his alphabet on the patio.
Amherst Police Detective Edward Monan testified Vitale-Elgie told police a day after the boy's death that she had left him alone on the patio for a minute or so with a bucket of laundry liquid with bleach that she had poured into a bucket to presoak some laundry.
Monan said Vitale-Elgie told investigators she immediately gave the boy water to drink and he vomited into the laundry bucket.
Monan said Vitale-Elgie told police it wasn't until after 6 p.m. that day that the boy became ill, just as the family was sitting down for dinner.
She said the boy seemed to be having a seizure so she and her husband rushed the boy to the hospital, Monan testified.