2nd arrest in Legler case
Former housemate hit 15-year-old for more than a year, police say
The second of two women last known to live with Brittany Legler has been arrested on charges that she also beat the 15-year-old for more than a year before her death.
Linda Fisher, arrested Thursday, is accused of striking Legler less often and less severely than Fisher's one-time housemate, Lisa M. Iarussi, who was Legler's adoptive mother. Iarussi faces more serious beating charges than Fisher.
Fisher has been cooperating with Millcreek Township police in their investigation of Iarussi, who was arrested nearly two months ago.
Fisher also told the Erie Times-News that in the hours before Legler's death May 9, Iarussi beat Fisher and Legler with a hairbrush as she forced them to wrestle on Iarussi's bedroom floor.
Legler collapsed and died at the hospital about an hour later.
Fisher, 44, is accused of the third-degree felony of endangering the welfare of a child and the misdemeanor of simple assault. Iarussi, 35, is accused of the first-degree felony of aggravated assault as well as endangering the welfare of a child and the misdemeanor of recklessly endangering another person.
Police arrested Fisher based on her admission to detectives May 27 that she struck Legler in the head and face with an open hand once or twice a week from Jan. 1, 2003, until Legler's death May 9, according to the arrest records.
Police also allege that Fisher watched as Iarussi struck Legler four or five times a week during the same 17-month period. An autopsy showed that Legler suffered a cauliflower ear, a scarred lower lip and more than 200 bruises on her head and body.
Fisher "failed to attempt to stop the punishment or failed to contact the proper authorities to stop the punishment of Brittany Legler," Millcreek police Cpl. William Detisch said in the criminal complaint.
The complaint against Fisher, like the complaint against Iarussi, makes no allegations that the beatings caused Legler's death. The Erie County Coroner's Office is waiting on the results of postmortem tests to determine the cause of death for Legler, whose family has a history of a congenital heart defect. The coroner's findings will help police and prosecutors decide whether homicide charges are warranted.
Police charged Iarussi on May 19, eight days before detectives interviewed Fisher. Detisch said scheduling conflicts and other issues prevented the police from arresting Fisher sooner.
Police are waiting on the coroner's report to decide how to proceed in the case, Detisch said. The lead prosecutor, Robert Sambroak Jr., a first assistant district attorney, declined comment, other than to say that he will move to postpone Fisher's preliminary hearing, which is tentatively set for July 20. Iarussi's preliminary hearing is July 27.
At the time of Legler's death Fisher was living with Legler and Iarussi in Iarussi's mobile home at 554 Polito Drive, near Waldameer Park.
Fisher had also lived in another mobile home on Polito Drive, across from Iarussi's home.
Fisher declined to specify the nature of her relationship with Iarussi in an interview with the Erie Times-News in June. Iarussi told the Times-News that Fisher was her most recent lover. Iarussi also blamed Legler's injuries on Fisher and Iarussi's other female lovers.
The lesser charges the police filed against Fisher show that District Attorney's Office believes Iarussi is more culpable than Fisher. The District Attorney's Office on Thursday also had no objection to District Justice Paul Manzi letting Fisher remain out of prison based on her promise to appear at her preliminary hearing or forfeit $5,000.
At the prosecution's urging, Manzi at Iarussi's arraignment set bond for her at $250,000. She remains in the Erie County Prison.
Legler, who was receiving public assistance for a mental disability, was adopted by Iarussi in August 2001. Child-welfare officials approved Iarussi as the adoptive mother partly because of her friendship with Legler's mother, Rosa Pollard, who opposed the adoption in the end.
The Erie County Office of Children and Youth is conducting a confidential investigation of the case, including how the agency responded to complaints that Legler was being abused after the adoption.
ED PALATTELLA can be reached at 870-1813 or by e-mail.