Stepmother pleads not guilty in toddler’s death
Ellen Tran now charged with first-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 pleaded not guilty in Oneida County Circuit Court to a felony charge of first-degree reckless homicide.
Ellen L. Tran appeared in court Wednesday morning for an arraignment with her attorney, Jonas Bednarek, who has replaced Amy C. Scholz in representing her.
Since Tran’s preliminary hearing June 23 when she was bound over for trial after Judge Patrick F. O’Melia found probable cause of a felony being committed, district attorney Michael W. Schiek filed information in the case to upgrade the count against Tran from a Class D to a Class B felony, changing the charge from second-degree to first-degree reckless homicide.
At the preliminary hearing, O’Melia stated the evidence presented “would support more serious offenses, potentially, such as intentional offenses.”
If convicted, Tran could now face a maximum possible penalty of 40 years of initial confinement in prison, followed by 20 years of extended supervision, compared to the lesser charge carrying maximum possible prison time of 15 years of initial confinement, followed by 10 years of extended supervision.
Given the change in attorneys, Bednarek requested 60 days for discovery evidence to be exchanged. O’Melia then set a pretrial conference in the case for Oct. 17. Tran remains free on bond.
The circumstances surrounding Tran being charged 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.
Dr. Doug Kelley of the Fond du Lac County Medical Examiner’s Office, who performed the autopsy on the boy, determined the cause of death to be blunt force trauma to the head.
Tran is accused of giving authorities varying accounts about what happened to the boy and had been the only adult present when the alleged incident happened and she had been caring for the him, as well as a nine-year-old son and a 15-month-old daughter.
After Tran stated the boy fell in the shower, she said she could not remember how the fall happened, according to an Oneida County Sheriff’s Office report, which also noted a doctor at the Child Abuse Center at St. Joseph’s Hospital, Kristen Iniguez, contacted sheriff’s office captain Terri Hook on April 15 related to concern about the boy’s injuries not matching the information Tran provided.
Tran subsequently faced a felony bail jumping charge for allegedly having an unsupervised visit with her 18-month-old daughter while Tran was at the city of Rhinelander’s Fourth of July parade.
According to a sheriff’s office report, Tran had been seen in the area where the daughter and the temporary foster parent were at with the contact lasting approximately 30-45 minutes. A Child in Need of Protection and/or Services (CHIPS) order in effect only allowed Tran to have supervised visits with the child at the Oneida County Courthouse.
A status conference on the bail jumping charge is also set for Oct. 17.