7/13/2019 7:30:00 AM Tran pleads guilty to obstruction in toddler death case
Jamie Taylor and Heather Schaefer Of the River News
A former Rhinelander physician whose former wife was convicted last fall of causing the death of his toddler son entered a guilty plea Friday afternoon to one count of obstruction an officer, a misdemeanor, resolving the criminal case against him.
Dr. Trung T. Tran, 42, was charged with two felony counts following his son's death: child abuse (fail/prevent bodily harm and neglecting a child (consequence is death). He was set to stand trial in September however, according to records filed by the defense team Friday morning, a plea deal has been reached.
"Based on problems with the State's ability to meet its burden of proof, the State and defense have come to a compromise and the State has amended the charges against Trung to one count of misdemeanor, obstructing an officer," the defense memorandum states.
According to court records, Avery James Edwards, 20 months, Dr. Tran's son from a previous relationship, became unresponsive April 14, 2017 while staying with his father and stepmother, Ellen Tran, in Newbold on a court-ordered visitation. He died several hours later at a hospital in Marshfield.
Two days later, Ellen Tran was charged with second-degree reckless homicide. The charge was later amended to first-degree reckless homicide.
In September 2017, Oneida County district attorney Mike Schiek charged Dr. Tran with child abuse (failure to act to prevent great bodily harm) and neglecting a child (consequence is death), both felonies. In the criminal complaint, Schiek accused Dr. Tran of failing to protect his son from Ellen Tran, who had expressed animosity against him.
Tran challenged the original charges and won a victory in November 2017 when his attorney successfully argued there is insufficient evidence in the criminal complaint to show his client was aware of any prior "great" bodily harm to Avery Edwards at the hands of Ellen Tran.
Judge Michael Bloom dismissed the "failure to act" charge on that basis but the state responded by filing a slightly different charge - failure to act to prevent "bodily harm" which requires the state prove only that Dr. Tran knew or believed Edwards had suffered previous "bodily harm" as opposed to "great bodily harm" at Ellen's hands.
The defense filed a motion to dismiss the new charge but it was denied.
Ellen Tran was convicted of first-degree reckless homicide on Oct. 25, 2018, following a four-day trial in which the state argued she caused the boy to suffer fatal brain trauma. Texts and emails from Dr. Tran to Ellen's parents and between the couple, introduced during the trial showed that she resented the child because she saw him as a threat to the happy family she had hoped to have with Trung.
Judge Patrick O'Melia sentenced her to 15 years initial confinement followed by seven years extended supervision.
According to the defense memorandum, the state and defense have stipulated that Trung Tran obstructed justice when he lied to Det. Sgt. Chad Wanta in the beginning of the investigation into Avery's death.
"While Trung initially told Detective Wanta he had no knowledge of Ellen's feelings towards Avery, text messages taken from Ellen's phone show otherwise. This constitutes a basis for obstructing an officer," the memorandum states.
According to the memorandum, the state's sentencing recommendation is 14 days in jail. The defense intends to argue for less time behind bars, the document states.
Judge Michael Bloom could reject the recommendations and sentence Tran to the maximum, 9 months in jail as well as a $10,000 fine. If convicted of the original charges, Tran faced a maximum sentence of 31 years in prison.
Tran's sentencing hearing was ongoing Friday afternoon as today's edition went to press.
A full story on the case will be published in the Tuesday River News.
The Northwoods River News | Walker Communications, LLC 232 S. Courtney Street, Rhinelander, WI 54501 | Office (715) 365-6397 | Fax (715) 365-6361
Corporate billing office: The Lakeland Times / Lakeland Printing Inc. | P.O. Box 790, Minocqua, WI 54548 | (715) 356-5236 | Fax (715) 358-2121 Members of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association, Wisconsin Community Papers, Rhinelander Area Chamber of Commerce, Minocqua Area Chamber of Commerce