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home : news : court news June 27, 2017

Jamie Taylor/River News

Ellen Tran, shown here at her initial appearance in Oneida County Circuit Court April 18, is due back in court May 25 on a charge of second-degree reckless homicide in the death of her 20-month-old stepson Avery J. Edwards.
Jamie Taylor/River News

Ellen Tran, shown here at her initial appearance in Oneida County Circuit Court April 18, is due back in court May 25 on a charge of second-degree reckless homicide in the death of her 20-month-old stepson Avery J. Edwards.
5/18/2017 7:30:00 AM
Amended complaint details injuries in child death case
Police report: Mother took photos showing toddler was uninjured before visit with Trans
By Jamie Taylor and Heather Schaefer
of the river news Staff

Oneida County district attorney Michael Schiek filed additional paperwork Tuesday afternoon, supplementing a complaint filed April 17 charging a 28-year-old Rhinelander woman with second-degree reckless homicide in the death of her toddler stepson.

The charge against Ellen L. Tran has not been amended but the state has filed additional reports from the two Oneida County officers, Capt. Terri Hook and Sgt. Chad Wanta, investigating the death of 20-month-old Avery J. Edwards.

The new records detail the officers' interrogation of Ellen Tran and as well as a one-page provisional autopsy report by Dr. Doug Kelley of the Fond du Lac County medical examiner's office. The autopsy report details seven head injuries Edwards allegedly suffered that were originally grouped under "blunt force trauma."

It also states contusions were found on the boy's lower legs, knees, right elbow, back, right hip and right abdomen.

The amended complaint was filed in response to a defense motion to dismiss the case on the basis that the original "criminal complaint fails to allege any facts or conduct by Ms. Tran that would show probable cause that she caused the death of (her stepson Avery J. Edwards) or that she caused the death by criminally reckless conduct."

The motion was filed by defense attorney Amy C. Scholz May 5, 17 days after Tran made her initial appearance before Branch I Judge Patrick O'Melia on the charge.

The complaint contains Hook's original report of the investigation which started when the sheriff's department received a 9-1-1 call the evening of April 14 reporting a 20-month-old boy in Newbold was breathing very shallowly.

According to the original report, deputies and medics responded to the Tran home and transported Edwards to Ministry St. Mary's Hospital in Rhinelander. Edwards was then flown to St. Joseph's Hospital in Marshfield where he passed away just after midnight on April 15.

In interviews with police, Ellen Tran claimed the boy fell in the shower but couldn't explain how the fall happened, although she claimed she was with Edwards in the shower the entire time.

Investigators showed Tran photographs of the injuries Edwards suffered and asked her to explain how they occurred. She maintained that the child had fallen in the shower, but said he did not look the way he did in the photos when she last saw him.

In the more detailed second report, written on May 10, Hook went into detail about a phone conversation she had with Lori Edwards, Avery's mother, on Monday, April 17. During that conversation, Edwards told the captain she took numerous photos of Avery's bare body the day before he left to visit the Trans on April 1, because the boy had been returned bruised following a previous visit with his father, Dr. Trung T. Tran, and stepmother.

According to the report, Hook contacted the Danville Police Department in Virginia and asked officers there to retrieve the photos from Edwards' phone along with text messages. The material was sent to Hook via disk. A metadata examination showed the photos were taken on March 31, 2017, the complaint states. According to the report, the March 31 photos show no bruises on Avery's body.

Wanta's report details an interview with Tran at the sheriff's office on April 15.

In that interview, Tran describes the scene in the bathroom while the boy was being showered. She said her 15-month-old daughter was crying because she wanted to nurse and Edwards had become slippery after she soaped him up. She said he somehow fell while she bent over to adjust the water temperature. She repeatedly said she did not know what part of the shower area the boy's head struck.

Wanta wrote that he and Hook stressed to Tran that the injuries the boy suffered were not consistent with a fall in the shower.

"I explained to Ellen that I had never seen a child in the condition (Avery) was except for a car accident and the doctors who had examined (Avery) were advising the injuries were not caused by a fall in the shower," Wanta wrote.

Later in the interview, Tran was asked why the 9-1-1 operator had to talk her through performing CPR on Edwards when she has experience with such techniques as a nurse. She explained that she panicked and forgot how to perform CPR. She also denied giving the boy inadequate breathes during CPR, after an investigator told her it appeared to police that she was blowing into the phone rather than the boy's mouth.

When asked how many total times Edwards fell in the shower, Tran replied that he "just fell and was flopping around everywhere." She later told Hook that she did not know how many times the child had fallen. She also repeatedly claimed that the child was able to stand up on his own after the fall and became unresponsive later. She also admitted that she was holding one of the boy's legs when he fell.

She denied striking Edwards with the handheld showerhead but said she did hold it near his face to wash him off.

The provisional autopsy report lists a hemorrhage in the right cerebral hemisphere of the brain extending to the middle and posterior, or rear, fossa.

According to teachmeanatomy.com, "the floor of the cranial cavity is divided into three distinct depressions. They are known as the anterior cranial fossa, middle cranial fossa and posterior cranial fossa. Each fossa accommodates a different part of the brain.

The middle cranial fossa is located, as its name suggests, centrally in the cranial floor. It is said to be 'butterfly shaped,' with a middle part accommodating the pituitary gland and two lateral parts accommodating the temporal lobes of the brain."

The autopsy report also lists a hemorrhage in the left temporal lobe of the child's brain, in addition to "multiple" contusions to the head and scalp.

In a phone interview with law enforcement, Lori Edwards, who resides in Virginia, is quoted in both of Hook's reports as saying that "she knew this was going to happen."

The mother's child custody attorney contacted Hook just after 6:30 a.m. April 15 to report that there had been a temporary restraining order (TRO) placed against Ellen Tran preventing her from having contact with the boy.

The attorney said the TRO had recently been lifted but an appeal of that decision was set to be heard April 20 in Virginia, the complaint states.

The attorney said the TRO was sought after bruising was found on the boy after he was returned from his last visit with his father and Ellen Tran had been the primary caregiver during that visit. During questioning on April 17, Ellen Tran claimed what Lori Edwards called bruising was a "Mongolian Spot."

According to Hook's initial report, it had been approximately 10 months since Dr. Tran had visitation with his son.

In court April 18, Scholz requested a hearing on the motion to dismiss the complaint. O'Melia set the preliminary hearing for 1:30 p.m. May 25 and advised he will hear the motion to dismiss at that time.

Tran is free on $50,000 cash bail but is prohibited from leaving the state.

Jamie Taylor may be reached at jamie@rivernewsonline.com.





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