Ellen Tran sentenced to 15 years in toddler death
“I wish, I really wish, as does everybody else, that you and your husband just let Avery live with somebody who loved him. That’s all.” Oneida County Circuit Judge Patrick O’Melia
By Eileen Persike
The woman convicted in October of negligent homicide in the death of her young stepson will spend the next 15 years in prison. Ellen Tran was sentenced in Oneida County Court Tuesday for the April 2017 death of Avery Edwards in her former town of Newbold home.
Given the opportunity to address Tran, Avery’s mother, Lori Edwards, spoke for more than an hour about her “happy, healthy, fun, curious, silly, playful, beautiful little boy who lived life, who had a good life,” with her before everything changed. Edwards detailed the custody battle Trung and Ellen Tran fought “to get custody of…a child that neither of them wanted for anything other than spite and greed,” when Edwards sought child support after the boy’s birth. The initial court-ordered visitation in North Carolina was with Ellen Tran; Trung Tran, at the time a Rhinelander physician, stayed in Wisconsin to work.
“They hated doing [the visit] but knew it was the best way to get at me,” Edwards said. “She taunted and tormented me the entire time she had my son. I was so shocked. This did not seem to be anything like the woman I had talked to before.”
According to testimony, Edwards began to suspect abuse and documented bruises and marks on his body, and then sought a restraining order against the Trans, which was eventually lifted, approximately two weeks before Avery’s death.
On April 14, 2017 Oneida County Sheriff’s Deputies responded to a 911 call regarding a child who was having trouble breathing after falling in the shower. The boy, Avery Edwards, was flown to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Marshfield and passed away a short time later. The cause of death was ruled as blunt force trauma to the head. Several days later Ellen Tran, the only adult at home with the child, was arrested. Tran was found guilty by a jury in October.
The trial revealed text messages between Tran and Edwards and between Ellen Tran and Trung Tran and videos that showed Avery looking unlike the child Edwards knew.
“I hoped that she had just snapped that day – that was the best hope that I could have,” Edwards said in court Tuesday. “But when I saw those pictures and saw those videos I knew my hopes were wrong. She broke my son before she killed him.”
Edwards said “the reality” was worse than she thought.
“She tormented him, she mistreated him, she taunted him, she abused him, she broke his spirit, she stole Avery’s life and laughter from him in those two weeks and then she killed him.”
Before imposing a sentence, Circuit Court Judge Patrick O’Melia gave Ellen Tran the opportunity to speak. Tran apologized and said she would accept the court’s sentence as part of God’s plan.
“I’m sorry I wasn’t able to do more and keep him safe,” Tran said through tears. “He was a special little boy. His sister loved him very much and Andrew loved him very much, my son… I hope you will consider my kids when imposing my sentence because they will also suffer without their mother. I accept the courts sentence as part of God’s plan. I have faith in him and believe he’ll be there for me and when I don’t have the strength to go on he’ll carry me.”
O’Melia then outlined the criteria he must consider for a conviction of first degree reckless homicide. He pointed out mitigating factors in the presentence investigation, citing Tran’s lack of criminal history, living a low-key life, has a college degree and good work history.
“[Tran is] not afraid to work and not afraid to earn an honest day’s dollar, and that is to her credit,” O’Melia said. “I see people who have none of those qualities, so that’s some of the differences the court has to look at.”
The presentence investigation, he added, on the whole paints a “positive picture” of the defendant, up until that April day in 2017.
“[Avery] would have been safer if just left on somebody’s doorstep,” O’Melia continued. “A stranger would have taken better care of Avery. Likewise, a stranger would have been safer in Ms. Tran’s home,” and referenced the “toxic relationship” with Tran’s husband and with Lori Edwards.
“It was just so toxic, and for what? A couple hundred bucks in child support? For jealousy because Dr. Tran had a past relationship?”
Referring to the texts presented during Tran’s trial, O’Melia said another thing a judge considers during sentencing is undesirable behavior patterns of those convicted.
“Some have long prior records. Some never get caught,” O’Melia said. “It’s a difficult thing to define because you can’t read somebody’s mind, but in this case, you provided a glimpse of what’s inside with those emails and texts…It’s very difficult to think how you could speak about a child, not your own, but any child the way you did unless it’s to humiliate and mock the mom…who’s 1,000 miles away who could do a thing about it, which, in some evil way I suppose, was even worse taunting.”
O’Melia told Tran she is responsible for the “rippling effect of lives” she has “disrupted, destroyed, changed forever.” The only person who wasn’t affected, he said, is Dr. Tran, who the judge said has “shown just as much disdain for Avery and Ms. Edwards” as Ellen has.
He said he won’t be sentencing her because she made a “bad choice” in a husband, adding that it was a “team effort” to make a mother pay for asking for what she was entitled to get.
“I wish, I really wish, as does everybody else, that you and your husband just let Avery live with somebody who loved him,” said O’Melia. “That’s all. For 500 bucks a month, he’s gone and you wouldn’t have deal with the difficulty of raising a child that wasn’t yours or the difficulty or embarrassment, if you will, of this split family. You should have just not pursued it, but for whatever reason, vanity, the money, vindictiveness, jealousy, whatever it may have been, you just couldn’t let it go.”
And with that he sentenced the 30-year-old Tran to 15 years in prison followed by seven years of extended supervision.