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Ciambrone convicted of murder, gets life


Ciambrone convicted of murder, gets life

BRADENTON — Heather Ciambrone had a distant chance to rebuild her life, serving a 55-year prison sentence for murder. She would be an old woman when she got out, but she would be free.

And yet Ciambrone challenged the prison term, winning an appeal last year that set the stage for a trial this month on charges she starved and fatally beat her 7-year-old adopted son. Prosecutors did not offer a plea deal this time.

The legal gamble ended Wednesday with a greater blow for Ciambrone, 38. She was convicted again of murder and sentenced this time to life in prison after less than an hour of jury deliberation.

For prosecutors, justice was served in a case that focused on haunting images of an emaciated, bruise-covered boy, Lucas Ciambrone, lifeless on a medical examiner's table before his body was opened and examined. Police said the abuse case was one of the worst in the county's history.

Those grim photos of Ciambrone's son, who weighed 32 pounds when he died in May 1995, brought one juror to tears behind closed doors Wednesday. Authorities counted more than 300 cuts and scars on the boy's body.

"Life in prison is a just sentence given the circumstances," prosecutor Jeff Quisenberry said. "It's hard to imagine that many injuries on someone. The list seemed to go on forever."

There was little doubt that Ciambrone was guilty of first-degree murder, three jurors told the Herald-Tribune after Ciambrone was sentenced. The jurors said Ciambrone crossed the line in punishing the boy and failed as a parent to get him medical help for injuries.

Ciambrone's attorneys said they were disappointed in the verdict and vowed to appeal. Among other things, jurors should have been told that the medical examiner, Joan Wood, lost her license in the years after performing an autopsy on Lucas.

"The whole case is a tragedy from beginning to end," said Adam Tebrugge, an assistant public defender who represents defendants charged with murder. "I don't believe that anyone in the Ciambrone family intended to harm Lucas."

Tebrugge and assistant public defender Jennifer Fury portrayed Ciambrone as a mother struggling to control a violent, troubled boy. Lucas attacked his mother, Ciambrone's attorneys said.

At least some of the injuries Lucas sustained were self-inflicted, Tebrugge said.

Ciambrone and her husband, Joseph, who is serving a life sentence for his role in the boy's murder, adopted children who were largely unwanted, the lawyers said.

Prosecutors said Lucas had problems, but Heather Ciambrone did nothing to help the boy, who suffered abuse before the Ciambrones adopted him in 1993.

Ciambrone often locked Lucas naked in a bathroom devoid of light. He clawed at his bedroom door. He was fed raw noodles in a plastic bucket.

Lucas, the state said, was picked up by his ears and thrown around. He suffered at least four broken ribs at the time of his death.

Four blows to the back of his head killed him, a medical expert said during the trial.

"She responded with violence," Quisenberry said. "That was her reactions to his problems."

Quisenberry and fellow prosecutor Bruce Lee said testimony from two of Ciambrone's former adopted children was critical in proving the murder case.

The prosecutors praised the boy and the woman for taking the stand -- reliving the sounds and images of torture in the Ciambrone home in Rubonia.

Jurors deliberated for about 50 minutes before reaching a verdict. But there was little debate about the evidence. The jurors agreed Ciambrone was guilty during the first informal show of hands in the jury room.

"It wasn't a difficult case at all," juror David M. Vollmer said. "The defense didn't have much at all as far as I was concerned."

Herald-Tribune staff writer Frank Gluck contributed to this report.

2007 May 17