The criminal complaint charging the father of a 20-month-old boy who died in April after allegedly suffering injuries while in the care of his stepmother alleges the child might be alive today if Dr. Trung T. Tran had not left him with Ellen Tran.
Dr. Tran, 40, was arrested Tuesday and formally charged Wednesday with child neglect resulting in death and failure to act to prevent bodily harm to a child in connection with the April 15 death of his son Avery J. Edwards.
He made his initial appearance before Branch II judge Michael Bloom via video from the Oneida County Jail.
The doctor's wife, Ellen Tran, 28, was charged with second-degree reckless homicide April 18 after Edwards died from what the Fond du Lac County medical examiner has characterized as blunt force trauma to the head.
Oneida County district attorney Mike Schiek later increased the charge to first-degree reckless homicide.
At Wednesday's hearing, Dr. Tran's attorney Mike Guerin asked Bloom to seal the entire criminal complaint because the names of Ellen's older child and the couple's infant daughter were inadvertently included.
Schiek objected and said the matter could be rectified by redacting the names.
"We have taken every precaution the best we can to limit the amount of information, for the juveniles we used initials where appropriate," Schiek said. "I don't know any law that requires a closed hearing based on information, so I would ask that the court deny that request."
Bloom noted that the police report attached to the criminal complaint did include the names of the children, but agreed the problem could be corrected and the initial appearance could continue in open court.
"The full names will be redacted from the complaint and they will get identified by initials and date of birth only," Bloom ruled. "I did review the entirety of detective Wanta's report attached to the complaint before we called the case today, and I do not recall any explicit reference to a children's court proceedings or other information that would otherwise not be subject to disclosure under the open records statute. If I missed something, and it can be pointed out to me, or if additional authority can be presented to me in support of Mr. Guerin's request, I will certainly take that into consideration. But other than the full names of the two children indicated, I'm not going to redact the complaint further."
Schiek then asked Bloom to set a $20,000 cash bond for Tran.
"As a result of a considerable amount of additional investigation, we received new information and with that we obviously feel we have enough to charge Mr. Tran. It is my understanding that Mr. Tran is a physician at the local hospital and he has recently, I believe, accepted a position at a hospital in North Carolina, so there is some concern from the state that there is a potential of a flight risk," Schiek said, adding that he would also request Tran turn over his passport and notify the sheriff's office ahead of time if he intends to travel out of state.
Guerin said Tran does not have a passport at this time and the defense has no objection to the other condition.
He did request a lower cash bond, arguing that Trung has been a resident of the Rhinelander area, is a physician, has never been arrested and is a citizen of the United States, although he was born in Vietnam and came to this country at a young age.
"He was a Navy officer for eight years, he was honorably discharged, he graduated from medical school and had a secret clearance, he is not a flight risk, (and has) no place to go," Guerin said. "As Mr. Schiek has pointed out, his wife has had to post a substantial amount of bail ($30,000), and that is no secret that comes from the family money. And when I say family money, I mean Dr. Tran as his wife is unemployed."
He also noted that his client has been extremely cooperative with detectives investigating in the case.
"Any reason he has had to flee has existed since April, and he certainly would have been in a better position to flee from April until now," Guerin argued.
Bloom said he is aware of the case against Ellen Tran before judge Patrick O'Melia and expressed concern about the mention of North Carolina in the report in Trung's case.
"There is a certain flavor in reading detective Wanta's report of an absence of stability in the personal situation involving the defendant," Bloom said. "And there is reference to ongoing contact between the parties here in Wisconsin and in North Carolina. There are aspects of the situation which weigh favorably towards Mr. Tran relative to bail and there are aspects to this situation - including his history of being able to produce cash for purposes of bail for members of his family - that suggest some form of cash bond is appropriate."
He then set a $10,000 cash bond with the conditions that Schiek sought.
A preliminary hearing was scheduled for Oct. 24.
Included in the complaint was a supplemental report filed Aug. 30 explaining the reasons the state chose to charge Dr. Tran with failing to protect his son.
"During the course of the investigation, information showed Ellen and Trung did not have a stable relationship," Det. Chad Wanta wrote in the report. "Data recovered from electronic devices showed Ellen had much animosity toward (Avery) and did not want (Avery) in her life. The investigation determined that Trung was aware of Ellen's hostility toward (Avery) and that Ellen had issues with drugs, alcohol and depression; however, Trung allowed Ellen to care for (Avery)."
Trung was involved in a custody dispute with Avery's mother, Lori Edwards, who resides in Virginia and had primary custody of the boy.
Wanta alleges in the report that Trung "has three other children with whom he has no relationship and it appeared he was only trying to obtain custody of (Avery) to avoid paying child support. The information showed that Trung despised Lori and he stated in a text message that getting custody of (Avery) would cause Lori to 'melt down and die.'"
In an interview with sheriff's captain Terri Hook and himself, Trung stated that "he knew it was hard on Ellen caring for (Avery)," Wanta wrote.
He also admitted that he noticed bruises on the boy earlier in the April court-ordered visitation but did not take the boy to a doctor "for fear they (he and Ellen) would be accused of child abuse because of past allegations made by Lori following a visit (Avery) had with Ellen in August 2016, in which a temporary restraining order was put in place against Ellen prohibiting her from having contact with (Avery)," the complaint states.
The report also states that less than 72 hours after the boy's death Tran informed Child Support Services in Virginia that he no longer needed to pay child support.
The complaint contains numerous references to text messages between the couple indicating Trung had concerns about Ellen's stability and parenting skills.
In August 2016, the couple's infant daughter "had fallen or was dropped while in the shower with Ellen," the complaint states. One text message from Ellen to Trung said she did not like how Trung treated her after the incident and that he was not being supportive of her emotional state at that time. Trung replied that he had warned her about having the child in the shower.
"I told you about her in the shower with being slick when wet and to be careful, you don't listen," Trung replied.
In her initial interview with the police, Ellen Tran said she gave the boy a shower on April 14 and he must have been injured at that time, although she said she could not remember specifically how the injuries occurred.
Wanta's report also alleges that Ellen said several "spiteful" things about Avery in text messages, including that she wished he had never been born. "Ellen said she wished (Avery) had died and she wished Trung would get rid of his stupid bastard kid," the complaint states.
On April 7, Ellen allegedly sent her husband a photo of Edwards crying and made several disparaging remarks about the boy. Trung forwarded the texts to Ellen's parents and expressed concern about her negativity toward the child, Wanta wrote.
He concluded his report by stating that the information uncovered shows the couple had a "very strained relationship often resulting in arguments indicating much disdain for each other." Wanta also said the text messages show that Ellen was "resentful" of the child and "overwhelmed by having to care" for him.
Wanta wrote that Trung had said he had enough messages from Ellen to obtain a restraining order against her for comments about wanting Avery dead, which showed he was concerned about those comments.
"Trung was aware that leaving (Avery) with Ellen was a risk to (Avery's) welfare," the report alleges. "Trung had other options available, such as hiring childcare, but chose to leave (Avery) in Ellen's care, knowing Ellen had substance abuse and stability issues and knowing Ellen had put (the other two children) in danger. Trung knew Ellen was previously accused of abusing (Avery) and a temporary restraining order had been issued against her. Trung was the only person that could protect (Avery) from Ellen and was responsible for (Avery's) safety. Had Trung not left (Avery) in Ellen's care, (Avery) may still be alive."
Lori Edwards has attended several of Ellen Tran's court appearances but has not made any statements to the media about the case. However, she posted the following on her Facebook account on Thursday morning: "My heart is forever broken by what they have done, although I won't 'melt away and die' as Trung hopes. I will, however, stand strong against this evil and continue to fight for justice for my sweet innocent baby boy. I am still his mother, and a mother fights for her child, no matter what. I miss him every single day and I will miss him every day for the rest of my life."
Jamie Taylor may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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