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Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Parricide
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: March 29, 1999
Date of arrest: 3 days after
Date of birth: 1969
Victim profile: Elly Marie Pudelski (her newborn daughter - 12 days)
Method of murder: Beating
Location: Cuyahoga County, Ohio, USA
Status: Sentenced to a term of fifteen years to life on September 19, 1999

The Supreme Court of Ohio

journal entry and opinion

Ohio man convicted of murder in infant daughter's death

By Latoya Hunter -

December 1, 1999

CLEVELAND (Court TV) John and Sarah Pudelski lost their infant daughter a time to grieve for most parents. However, little Elly's death brought more that grief to John Pudelski's life. The 30-year-old engineer was convicted of murder and received a 15-year to life sentence.

Elly Marie Pudelski's death was first described as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, the medical term used for unexplained infant deaths. After a coroner noticed a linear fracture on the right side of the baby's skull, the death was classified as a homicide a killing John Pudelski's was soon suspected of committing. He was charged with premeditated murder and/or felony murder.

When police questioned the couple, John denied hurting the baby. He claimed there was no way Elly had a skull fracture. Though he denied involvement, he admitted he was the last one to see the baby alive. Pudelski was placed under arrest. His wife agreed that he was the murderer and filed for divorce days later.

The defense claimed the injury to to Elly's head was caused by difficult childbirth. Sarah's labor was induced because of high blood pressure and a Cesarean section was performed 30 hours later. Experts testifying for the defense will support this theory.

However, prosecutors said, after Elly's birth, a doctor evaluated the baby and concluded that she was fine. In addition, Sarah Pudelski claims the child was in good health.

The night before Elly's death, John Pudelski volunteered to feed her around 12 a.m the first time, according to his wife, that he fed Elly since she arrived from the hospital. Sarah claimed she was surprised by the gesture and went to sleep. At around 7 a.m., she claims she woke up and immediately felt something was wrong when she realized Elly didn't wake up for a 4 o'clock feeding. John, however, was sound asleep. Sarah claims this was also strange because he was usually up for work by that time.

Sarah's instincts were right. Something was wrong. Mrs. Pudelski claimed Elly was pushed up against one side of her crib's headboard and was cold to the touch. She woke her husband and he called 911. John attempted CPR on the baby but Sarah claims he tried to hide the baby during the procedure. Also, according to a paramedic who arrived on the scene, John Pudelski behaved strangely when asked about Elly.

Sarah Pudelski claimed her ex-husband is cold and cash-obsessed. She claims he never revealed to her how much he made as a computer engineer and gave her a $10 a week allowance. According to Sarah, John didn't allow his daughters from another marriage to go outside and play with other children.

Despite Sarah's claims, John Pudelski's co-workers at Highland Software Inc. continue to stand by the belief that he is a good man and did not commit any crime.

John Pudelski's attorney said he would appeal the conviction.


Pudelski Statement

Surrounding Facts

On March 16, 1999, her attending obstetrician, Dr. Daniel Aronson, admitted Sarah Pudelski, 37 weeks pregnant, to Hillcrest Hospital. Dr. Aronson diagnosed pregnancy-induced hypertension and noted Sarah's worsening condition. After 34 hours, Dr. Aronson determined that delivery by cesarean section was necessary. Because of complicating factors, Dr. William Zaia, a neonatologist, was also present in the delivery room. Elly was not breathing for the first minute of her life. Elly needed to be "kicked started" through the use of an oxygen bag and a mask, and vigorous stimulation.

Elly remained at the hospital until March 20, 1999 and was examined and observed by a variety of medical personnel whose reported findings were not totally consistent.

At approximately 7:00 am on March 29, 1999, Sarah alerted John that Elly appeared unresponsive and cold. John called 911 and attempted resuscitation. EMS transported Elly to Meridia Euclid Hospital where Dr. Kerry Scott found no signs of life. Dr. Scott pronounced Elly dead. Dr. Scott completed a form relating to Elly's death indicating no noticeable injuries, concluding sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) as probably cause of death.

Dr. Joseph Felo, a Cuyahoga County deputy coroner for approximately nine months, began Elly's autopsy on March 30, 1999. Dr. Felo did not review nor did he have knowledge of Sarah's complicated and prolonged labor, accepting as true (incorrect) statements from Euclid Police relating a normal birth. Dr. Felo did not review any medical records prior to performing his autopsy.

X-rays revealed a linear, four inch skull fracture with no gross intricranial injuries, on the side of Elly's head without signs of healing. Dr. Felo estimated the death occurred three to four hours following the "injury."

Dr. Felo claimed that Elly died close to 3:00 am. Dr. Felo ruled out SIDS as the cause of death and concluded on April 2, 1999, that Elly died as a result of cerebral edema due to a single blunt impact to the head with a skull fracture and the scalp hemorrhage. The coroner's office conducted no independent investigation nor did it interview Sarah or John.

At police request, Sarah and John went to Euclid Police Station. Upon entering the police station the Pudelskis were separated, Sarah going with Sergeant Pestak and John going with Jorz and Lt. Brooks. When Jorz confronted John with this unexpected distressing information, John explained the circumstances of Elly's birth and the prolonged labor before it. He was told this was a more recent fracture and when John can offer no explanation for a recent fracture, Jorz read John Miranda warnings, providing him with a corresponding form to sign. Upon reviewing this form, John requested to speak with a lawyer at which moment John was no longer free to leave. Jorz concluded Elly had been murdered and Jorz arrested John for this crime. John was arraigned on April 1, 1999 even before Dr. Felo reached his conclusions.

John's defense consisted of evidence from three prominent medical experts and character testimony. One of these, Dr. Robert Kiwi, chief of obstetrics and gynecology at University Hospitals of Cleveland, concluded that [Elly's skull] fracture was more likely than not, to have occurred at the time of birth rather than as an acute injury at or near the time of death, because he did not see any evidence that this was an acute injury.

Dr. Jan Leesma, Board certified in anatomic pathology and neuropathology, testified that Elly did not die as a result of blunt force trauma leading to cerebral edema, but with the trauma of birthing process causing the skull fracture.

Dr. Michael Baden, Board certified in anatomic pathology, clinical pathology, and forensic pathology, found Elly's brain normal at autopsy (and during life) and that she did not die of any brain abnormality, nor was her death a homicide.

John's remaining evidence consisted of character witnesses including his employer, his former wife, his former mother-in-law, and his mother. Following the submission of the defense exhibits, John rested and renewed his motion for Judgment of Acquittal, which the trial court overruled. The State presented rebuttal evidence challenging the medical testimony of Drs. Kiwi, Leesma, and Badin. The jury returned its verdict acquitting John of aggravated murder, finding John guilty of murder. John filed a motion for Post-Verdict Judgment of Acquittal on in the alternative for a New Trial, which the court denied. The court sentenced John to a term of imprisonment of fifteen years to life.

John filed a second motion for New Trial based on Newly Discovered Evidence, photographs taken the day after Elly's birth. These revealing pictures exhibited a large bruise on Elly's head, a bruise overlooked by all of the state's witnesses who testified that such a bruise did not exist.

The court concluded a two-day hearing wherein additional medical experts testified and a computer generated digital recreation confirmed the fracture's location underneath the bruised area as reflected in the newly discovered pictures, further supporting the defense evidence that the fracture was caused at birth. The trial court overruled John's motion for new trial. John timely appealed the Judgment of Conviction and the denials of his motion for new trial.

At no time did the state produce evidence, let alone beyond a reasonable doubt, that Elly's death resulted from or through criminal agency, that John inflicted injury or caused the injury, all of which are necessary to sustain conviction.



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