GUILTY PLEA WITHDRAWN IN DEATH OF ADOPTED SON
Author: MATT GRYTA - News Staff Reporter
Jessice Vitale-Elgie withdrew her guilty plea to a negligent homicide charge in the death of her adopted son after a judge today warned her that she was heading to prison for one to three years.
Two months ago, State Supreme Court Justice Penny M. Wolfgang had said she would consider probation for Vitale-Elgie in the death of 5-year-old Casey "C.J." Elgie three years ago. Today, however, Wolfgang said she felt she compelled to impose a prison term.
Wolfgang said she has received information from unidentified in-laws of Vitale-Elgie and public agencies that convinced her incarceration was warranted.
The judge said she has learned that Vitale-Elgie, who has three other children, including an adopted daughter, had made the little boy's "life a living hell" and her mistreatment of the boy led to his death.
After learning of the intended prison sentence, Vitale-Elgie withdrew the guilty plea she had entered Dec. 2. Her attorneys, Michael S. Taheri and Peter J. Todoro Jr., told the judge they plan to file motions asking Wolfgang to recuse herself from the case so it can be reassigned for trial to another local judge.
Vitale-Elgie remains free without bail.
If convicted of criminally negligent homicide at trial, Vitale-Elgie faces a possible sentence ranging from probation to up to one and one-third to four years in state prison.
Moments after Taheri and Todoro left court with Vitale-Elgie and a number of her family and friends, Vitale-Elgie's estranged sister-in-law told reporters that Vitale-Elgie's "very hostile" treatment of the little boy had led relatives to try to take custody of her adopted son.
Donna Levin, a mental health care professional, contended that the mistreatment made the boy's life "so miserable."
That prompted Taheri and Todoro to note that no one ever had made such reports to county child protection workers or other agencies.
During the brief court proceeding today, prosecutor Kenneth Forrest Case acknowledged that Vitale-Elgie had pleaded guilty as charged to the negligent homicide count, the only charge in the indictment.
Vitale-Elgie's lawyers said she had agreed to plead guilty to save her adopted daughter from testifying.
Speaking of Wolfgang's decision to impose a state prison term on Vitale-Elgie, who is being treated for two forms of bone cancer, Taheri said, "She exercised her rights (as a judge), and we exercised our rights, and we will proceed to trial."
Taheri and Todoro said Vitale-Elgie still has supervised visits with her adopted daughter, Marissa, now 8, and her biological twin sons, Jacob and Zachary, 4, who live with her estranged husband, William.
Casey died Sept. 1, 2000, a day after swallowing detergent solution in the Elgie family's home on Mahogany Drive in Amherst.
Vitale-Elgie, who now lives in Kenmore, admitted Dec. 2 that she had failed to seek immediate medical aid for her son after he became violently ill, but she did not further describe the incident.
Her estranged husband never was charged criminally, but since-retired Erie County Family Court Judge Marjorie C. Mix found him and Vitale-Elgie guilty of "neglectful conduct" in the boy's death.