Stepmother bound over for trial in toddler’s death
Ellen L. Tran charged with second-degree reckless homicide
BY KEVIN BONESKE
A 28-year-old Rhinelander-area woman accused of causing the death of her 20-month-old stepson has been bound over for trial in Oneida County Circuit Court on a charge of second-degree reckless homicide.
Ellen L. Tran appeared in court Friday for a preliminary hearing with her attorney, Amy C. Scholz, who sought to have the Class D felony count dismissed by arguing the prosecution didn’t present evidence showing her client committed a criminally reckless act that caused the boy’s death.
The circumstances surrounding Tran being charged for the alleged crime – which carries a maximum possible penalty of 15 years of initial confinement in prison, followed by 10 years of extended supervision, and/or a $100,000 fine upon conviction – relate to a 911 call the county’s dispatch center received the evening of April 14 when it was reported a child had trouble breathing at a residence in the town of Newbold.
The child, Avery J. Edwards, was transported to St. Mary’s Hospital in Rhinelander, where he was then flown out to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Marshfield and passed away a short time later.
County district attorney Michael W. Schiek called two witnesses to testify at the preliminary hearing, for which Judge Patrick F. O’Melia found probable cause of a felony being committed.
County sheriff’s department detective Chad Wanta testified about being on call the evening of the incident and also being involving in the investigation afterwards. Wanta said the boy’s father stated he left for work early that evening and noticed the boy wasn’t injured at that time.
Wanta said Tran – who was the only adult in the house with her stepson and two other children, ages nine years and 15 months – gave varying accounts about what happened to her stepson and didn’t initially state to authorities that the boy fell in the shower.
Prior to that incident, Wanta said the boy’s biological mother, Lori E. Edwards, who lives in Virginia, previously had custody of the boy and expressed concern about his well-being with Tran once again taking care of him.
Wanta noted there had been a temporary restraining order against Tran to keep her from having contact with the boy before the order no longer was in effect.
As part of the evidence presented during Wanta’s testimony, O’Melia granted Schiek’s requests to play audio of the 911 call and a portion of a video-recorded interview Wanta and sheriff’s department captain Terri Hook had with Tran.
Under cross-examination from Scholz, Wanta was asked about blunt force trauma to the head being found as the cause of the boy’s death, to which Wanta said he didn’t know the implement used and was unsure of the act to cause that type of injury.
Dr. Doug Kelley of the Fond du Lac County Medical Examiner’s Office, who performed the autopsy on the boy, testified by phone.
Kelley, who noted he discovered bruising on the boy’s head in six different areas, said the blunt force trauma to the head, which he couldn’t determine specifically what caused it, was not consistent with falling in the shower.
In binding Tran over for trial, O’Melia said that though no “smoking gun” has been found as to what implement specifically caused the blunt force trauma, that wasn’t necessary to show a homicide was committed.
“(Tran’s) statement is she is there holding (the stepson), watching him,” O’Melia said. “Frankly, her lack of explanations, plus reasonable inferences, would support more serious offenses, potentially, such as intentional offenses, potentially, with the record that I heard today.
“Her explanation putting a 20-month-old in a shower is dangerous, in and of itself, and she knew it was dangerous.”
Tran, who remains free on a $50,000 cash bond, is scheduled back in court Aug. 16 for an arraignment. O’Melia agreed to modify Tran’s bond so that she could visit her parents in North Carolina or be able to pick up family members at an airport in Minnesota.