Stepmother sentenced to 20 years in death of Baby Andrew
UPDATED 6:39 p.m.
ELMIRA, N.Y. -- If Melissa Engelhardt spends the full 20 years in state prison that Chemung County Judge Peter C. Buckley sentenced her to today, her own two children will be young adults when she's released.
Kristen Cianfrini, the mother of Andrew Cianfrini, the 21-month-old killed by Engelhardt on Nov. 10, 2009, told Buckley -- the woman who once pretended to be her friend, but then tried to pin Andrew's death on her -- should spend the rest of her life in prison.
In a statement to Buckley, Kristen called Engelhardt evil and heartless and said that Engelhardt planned the death of Andrew in order to end child support payments being taken from her husband's paycheck.
“Please don’t feel sorry for Melissa," Kristen said. "She has no sorrow, no heart, no nothing. She knew exactly what she was doing when she killed my baby boy. Melissa is a cold, heartless, selfish murderer.”
In October, in a non-jury trial, Buckley found Engelhardt guilty of manslaughter, but did not convict her of murder, saying that he didn't find enough evidence to indicate she intended to kill Andrew, only make him sick.
The Cianfrini family has expressed concern that Buckley, who has a reputation of being a liberal judge, would give Engelhardt far less than the maximum of 25 years prison time for the manslaughter conviction. The minimum sentence was five years.
After leading off with a lengthy mental history of Engelhardt -- 14 different foster homes, about a dozen different mental heath prescriptions over the years, several terms of hospitalized mental health care, a childhood of physical and sexual abuse, and years of untreated substance abuse -- it appeared Buckley was heading toward a lenient sentence.
"Your history shows that when you stop taking your medication, your behavior and decision making suffers, leading to a regression and poor judgment," Buckley said. "The crime of giving Andrew Cianfrini methanol in the form of windshield wiper fluid in his sippy cup was committed when you were not taking any medication and exercising a poor decision process causing the death of an innocent child."
When he told Engelhardt she would do 20 years in prison, followed by five years of supervised probation, the 24-year-old killer looked toward the ceiling (picture above) and supporters of the Cianfrini family -- more than a dozen people -- applauded.
After the courtroom cleared, Engelhardt could be heard in a back office of the court bawling and wailing.
During their statements, Chief Assistant District Attorney John R. Thweatt and defense attorney Nancy Eraca-Cornish re-argued their cases.
Thweatt tried to drive home the point that Engelhardt had to know that her actions would lead to Andrew's death.
"She knew enough to take the sippy cup and dump out the methanol and replace it with water," Thweatt said. "She knew enough afterward to try and shift the blame to Andrew’s mother. She knew enough to get her husband to try and reinstall the operating system on her computer in order to hide what was on it. All of that bespeaks some level of sophistication and intelligence and forethought and planning that can’t be explained adequately by saying she only had a GED or she wasn’t on her medication."
It was important, Thweatt said, for Judge Buckley to send a message to the community that she can't get away with her actions.
“The message should be that here in Chemung County that you’re going to forfeit the balance of the rest of your life for the death that you have caused," Thweatt said. "We are very concerned that this message is getting lost in this case.”
Eraca-Cornish countered that the prosecution had every chance to make a case for a more serious charge and didn't. And as far as sending a message, she called out the DA's office for inconsistency, she said, in pleading out another case of a mother suffocating an infant and getting only six months in jail.
And as she did at trial, Eraca-Cornish pointed to Engelhardt's lack of education and low IQ -- saying it is only a 91.
“She is not now nor has she ever been high functioning, Eraca-Cornish said, adding later that evidence showed she researched online the effects of methanol on people. ”We don’t even know for how long she viewed those screens or whether she even understood what she saw on those computer screens.”
As for the idea that Engelhardt isn't remorseful, Eraca-Cornish, said she is remorseful. She didn't cry in court during the trial, she said, because that would be highly inappropriate. She expressed remorse to the judge in a letter, the attorney said.
“She has suffered," Eraca-Cornish said. "Has she suffered as much as the Cianfrini family? Absolutely not. But she has suffered.”
When offered a chance to speak, Engelhardt told Buckley that she will never forgive herself.
“I was not fully medicated and stable enough to see my errors," she said.
When Jean Cianfrini, Andrew's grandmother, spoke to Buckley, she recalled in detail the reaction of the family to news of Andrew's death. As she spoke, supporters in the gallery began to sob.
She spoke at length about how Kristen's 7-year-old son has been devestated by his baby brother's death.
"'Sometimes he irritated me, but I miss him,'" Jean recalled the boy saying once.
She said a day doesn't go by, more than a year later, that the boy doesn't talk about Andrew.
"He questions if there are children in heaven and if God plays with them, and if Andrew is not in heaven, will God send him back?” Jean said.
Outside court, Kristen had nothing good to say about Melissa Engelhardt, but indicated she was satisfied with the sentence.
"It's not 25 years. It's not life," said Kristen. "At least she will be in long enough that her children won't know her and hopefully when they get older they won't want anything to do with her."
Asked what she would say to Engelhardt, if she could, "I hope you rot and burn in hell," Kristen said. "I know my boy is haunting you every day of your life."
George Engelhardt, Andrew's father and Melissa's now estranged husband, also made a brief statement to the media.
"I don't think 20 years is enough," he said. "I'm just glad she will never see her children, my children, again. Her name is Melissa Miller. It's not Engelhardt, so, that's going to switch here quickly."
Photos: Top, Melissa Engelhardt reacts to the verdict. First inset, Engelhardt entering the court room. Second inset, Judge Peter Buckley. Third, George Engelhard. Bottom, John (grandfather) and Kristen (mother of Andrew) Cianfrini.
20 years bullsh*t let's do to her what she did to that poor baby people like that don't deserve to even live in prison just more trash for the tax payers this is why I hate judge and jury let Andrews mom give her the punishment!!!!
Should have been Murder 2nd and given 25+ years. But at least she'll be gone for a long time. If she follows the prison rules and takes the required programs, she'll get out before the 20 years on Conditional Release (Good Time).
While I understand and support what Lisa was trying to say, that at some point you need face what happened and get past the death of any person close to you. I must say I have to agree with Doug, Charlene and Sharilyn have stated. It is really stretching the definition of the law saying this was not intentional. I mean I see that her intent was to remove the child support from Mr. Englehardt so I guess she is capable and sophisticated enough of planning and executing a plan to make the child sick and implicating the mother, but not of killing?
I also disagree that this was a non-jury trial. I believe that jury trials not only should be in place for the accused, but for the victims as well. I wonder how many people think that a jury would have convicted her of murder and sentenced accordingly. If the Cianfrini's and Englehardt's hadn't been vocal in the media about how liberal this judge is with sentencing I wonder what he might have given her for a sentence.
I'm sorry Lisa that you got jumped on for your well intentioned advice on getting past the incident and moving on with their lives. But as I'm sure you are capable of understanding, everyone has to deal with tradgedies like this at their own pace. We all know that we have to move on but advising so when things are still so unsettled and emotional is hard.