Saturday, February 23, 2002

Mom charged in 3 infants' deaths


Records call spawned second look

By Joe Milicia
The Associated Press

        NILES, Ohio — By age 21, she had already lost four babies just weeks after they were born.

        Joseph died of pneumonia at a hospital. Melissa turned blue and was taken to the hospital but too late. Theodore and Regina both died in their cribs.

Greenfield
Greenfield
        Gloria Greenfield, 52, said she grieved them all. Now, more than 30 years later, she has been charged in three of the deaths and could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted.

        An estranged daughter's call to obtain death records of her siblings in June 2000 prompted investigators to reopen the cases.

        “I am innocent. I did not kill my children. I loved my children. I did not do this,” Ms. Greenfield said.

        The children died from natural causes, according to the original coroner whose death verdicts in other cases have been overturned.

        Ms. Greenfield was indicted this month on three murder counts.

        “It's a total nightmare. That's all I can say,” she said shortly after being released from jail on $100,000 bond.

        Ms. Greenfield also faces two assault charges that prosecutors say involve attacks on the daughter, Gloria Bennight.

        Ms. Greenfield's attorney, Anthony Consoldane, said Ms. Bennight had stopped breathing when she was 44 days old and 80 days old and was taken by her mother to the hospital and revived.

        Ms. Greenfield, formerly Gloria Jean Woods, lives a block away from the frame house where two of the babies died in this steel town 50 miles southeast of Cleveland.

        Ms. Bennight is the only surviving child of Ms. Greenfield's 1966 marriage to Theodore Woods. They later divorced, and Mr. Woods died in 1996.

        “I still love my mom and care about her more than anything else,” said Ms. Bennight, who cried at her mother's arraignment. “I never intended this to happen.”

        She said an aunt told her at age 8 that her siblings died of pneumonia and sudden infant death syndrome. She also knew that she stopped breathing one time as a baby.

        Ms. Bennight said she asked for the death records only because she was curious.

        Niles police Capt. Guy Simeone said Ms. Bennight's unusual records request prompted investigators to take another look at the deaths.

        The three babies, all less than a month old, were originally determined to have died from SIDS in 1969, 1970 and 1971.

        The cases aren't the first of former coroner Dr. Joseph Sudimack Jr.'s to be reinvestigated. Several of his rulings have been overturned and declared homicides — some cases where no autopsies were conducted.

        Dr. Sudimack was coroner from 1961 to 1987 and was president of the Ohio State Medical Association in 1991. He is retired and living in Columbus.

        Dr. Humphrey Germaniuk, who reinvestigated the deaths, said three SIDS deaths cannot occur in one family.

        “It doesn't happen,” said Dr. Germaniuk, a forensic pathologist at the Trumbull County coroner's office since 1998. “It's a well-known fact in forensic medicine that multiple sudden infant deaths in the same family are nothing more than multiple infant homicides.”

        Dr. Sudimack was a medical doctor, but not a forensic pathologist. Dr. Germaniuk said that may be why the deaths did not appear suspicious to him.

        Dr. Sudimack declined comment through his attorney, H. Ritchey Hollenbaugh.

        Dr. Germaniuk determined that two of the children, Theodore and Regina, died of asphyxia. He also changed the cause of death of the third child, Melissa, to undetermined. Ms. Greenfield is charged in the deaths of all three.

        Dr. Germaniuk has declined to say exactly why he reached the new rulings. He did not amend an earlier ruling on Joseph Woods, who died of pneumonia at age 2 months in 1967.

        Police, the prosecutor and coroner's office have released little information on the case. Dr. Germaniuk said the bodies will not be exhumed.

        “To me, I really don't need to have the bodies exhumed to arrive at my conclusions,” Dr. Germaniuk said.

        Theodore and Regina are buried next to each other on a hillside at Niles City Cemetery in a section for babies and newborns, where some graves are decorated with snowmen and angels.

        Experts have not determined what causes SIDS, which kills about 3,000 children a year, though theories include brain abnormalities and overheating.

        Laura Reno, spokeswoman for the National SIDS Alliance in Baltimore, said it would be a rare occurrence for a SIDS death to happen three times in one family, but the possibility could not be ruled out.

        “A lot of our researchers feel that it does not run in families,” she said.

        She said on rare occasions, SIDS deaths have been reclassified as being caused by metabolic disease, a heart defect or abuse.

       



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