Girl's mother blames others

Relates to:
Date: 2004-06-12

Iarussi, in prison interview, says she didn't abuse teenager

Ed Palattella

Brittany Legler's adoptive mother said she never beat the15-year-old and is being held for crimes someone else committed.

Lisa M. Iarussi, accused of aggravated assault and two endangerment charges, blamed Legler's extensive injuries, including more than 200 bruises, a scarred lip and a cauliflower ear, on a variety of people.

Iarussi mostly blamed her housemate, Linda Fisher, whom Iarussi described as her disgruntled lover.

Iarussi accused Fisher of suffocating Legler during a wrestling match on May 9, Mother's Day, the day Legler died. Iarussi said she never directed Fisher to wrestle with Legler, as Fisher contends, and she also disputed Fisher's claims that Iarussi beat Fisher and Legler with a purple hairbrush on May 9 and on previous days.

Iarussi, 35, said she used physical punishment to discipline Legler, but did nothing more.

"There were times when I shoved her and there were times when I cracked her and I pushed her," Iarussi said in a 35-minute telephone interview from the Erie County Prison on Friday.

"But I would never hit her or use a fist on her. Never. That is not true."

Iarussi also said Legler bruised easily because she was anemic.

"If you would just grab her, it was like if you beat the crap out of her," Iarussi said. "That is how bad it got."

Iarussi's comments came the day the Erie Times-News published an interview with Fisher, in which she said Iarussi beat Legler, whom Iarussi adopted on Jan. 1, 2001. Iarussi said Fisher's comments left her "flabbergasted."

The origin of Legler's injuries left her puzzled as well, Iarussi said.

Iarussi gave different explanations for how the injuries occurred. She blamed classmates of Legler, who attended special-education classes at Millcreek Township's McDowell Intermediate High School. She said Legler also hurt herself in a bike accident and suffered abuse at the hands of Fisher.

"They are just letting Linda go scot-free, and that is not fair," Iarussi said.

She said she and Fisher were lovers, and that she has never told police that Fisher was responsible for the abuse.

On the day of Legler's death, Iarussi told police that Legler was playing in the yard when she collapsed into unconsciousness and possibly struck her head on a cement stairway, according to a search warrant in the case. Paramedics found Legler unconscious at Iarussi's mobile home at 554 Polito Drive, near Waldameer Park. Legler died at Hamot Medical Center a little more than an hour later, at 6:42 p.m.

Iarussi acknowledged she told police Legler collapsed in the yard, but said she made up the story because she feared Fisher. She said Fisher suffocated Legler, but that she was afraid to tell police that's what happened.

"I was terrified," Iarussi said. "I knew I should have told the police. I had every intention to."

Since her arrest May 19, Iarussi has remained in prison, unable to make bond of $250,000. Her preliminary hearing is scheduled for June 23.

Iarussi said she has tried to contact the police but has been unsuccessful. She also said she has been unsuccessful in talking to the police or the District Attorney's Office through her lawyer, Kevin Kallenbach, an assistant public defender.

Kallenbach has declined comment. District Attorney Brad Foulk said investigators have not tried to speak to Iarussi once she was assigned a lawyer.

"I am not aware of any direct attempts to contact us," Foulk said.

Iarussi's comments to the Erie Times-News contradict what she has told police, and they run counter to what Fisher and four other women have told investigators. The five women said they saw Iarussi abuse Legler, according to a search warrant in the case.

Iarussi said Fisher and the other women were her former lovers, and she said they were all angry with her. Fisher in a previous interview declined to be specific about the nature of her relationship with Iarussi. She said she lived with Iarussi for two years and was afraid of her.

Fisher and the other women "all hit" Legler, Iarussi said. "What do you think I got rid of them for?"

Among Iarussi's other comments:

On Legler's cauliflower ear: "Brittany has always had a strange-looking ear."

On what she thought when she saw, during Legler's life, what the Coroner's Office said were more than 200 bruises that covered Legler's body: "I never saw them because Brittany was a teenager. I never saw her naked."

On Legler's scarred inside lower lip: "That is from her constantly biting her lip." Iarussi also said Legler could have hurt her lip in a bicycle accident. "She could have got it there. I don't know. I wasn't there. Weeks and months before that, the lip would scar up (from her biting it). She would constantly drool."

On the injuries that Fisher suffered: Iarussi said they were accidental. Police said that when officers arrested Iarussi on May 19, they saw Fisher with two black eyes and a swelling bruise on the side of her head.

Fisher told the Erie Times-News that Iarussi hit her in the head with the hairbrush. Iarussi said she accidentally gave Fisher a black eye when she poked her in the face with a stick. She said got angry because Fisher had been poking Legler with the stick, and "I was trying to show Linda how Brittany feels."

"Linda ducked and the stick hit Linda in the corner of the eye. It was not intentional," Iarussi said.

ED PALATTELLA, can be reached at 870-1813 or by e-mail.


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