Globe and Mail

Couple convicted in tot's cruel death in Salt Lake City

Utah jury deliberates just 90 minutes to convict Canadians on three charges

JANE ARMSTRONG
The Globe and Mail
Saturday, July 17, 1999

Salt Lake City, Utah -- Canadians Andrew Fedorowicz and Ferosa Bluff face a lifetime sentence in U.S. prison after a Utah jury found the pair guilty of killing and abusing Mrs. Bluff's three-year-old daughter, Rebecca, who slowly bled to death from internal injuries after a series of savage beatings.

Mr. Fedorowicz, 46, and Mrs. Bluff, 27, stared at Third District Judge Dennis Frederick and showed little emotion as he read out the guilty verdicts. The pair was charged with murder, child abuse and sexual abuse of a child.

After deliberating just 90 minutes, the eight-member jury found the pair guilty on all three counts. They face prison sentences ranging from five years to life, and will be sentenced Aug. 20.

Rebecca's father, Todd Bluff, who testified on behalf of his wife, left the courtroom after the verdict, pushing past reporters without making a comment.

Prosecutors, police officers and their witnesses said the case shook them like no other. "It's one of the hardest cases I've ever worked -- in fact it is the hardest case," said Salt Lake County Sheriff Department Detective Steven Jentzsch, the lead investigator on the case. Det. Jentzsch said he felt relief at the guilty verdicts, but added he was "mostly feeling sad for Rebecca."

The girl's naked, wet body was discovered on the bathroom floor of Mr. Fedorowicz's rented townhouse just south of Salt Lake City on Oct. 21, 1998. Her body was blanketed with bruises, particularly her back and buttocks. Paramedics were immediately suspicious and called police.

The two Canadians denied from the outset playing any role in the child's death, telling police Rebecca fell down the stairs the day prior to her death.

Lawyers for Mr. Fedorowicz and Mrs. Bluff said they were disappointed with the verdict and plan to appeal. Mr. Fedorowicz's lawyer, Gil Athay, said the state failed to prove his client murdered Rebecca. Rather, he suggested, the jurors were swayed by graphic and distressing autopsy photographs of Rebecca's bruised body.

"We saw that as we watched the jurors when the photographs were shown to them," Mr. Athay said outside court. "They turned off and they never came back."

Mr. Athay said his client was damaged by descriptions of a homemade sex video in which Mrs. Bluff is whipping Mr. Fedorowicz's wife Suzanne, who is lying nude and restrained on a waterbed. Mr. Fedorowicz is heard ordering instructions.

Mr. Athay said the jury wrongly concluded that people who engage in this kind of consensual activity are capable of beating and killing a child.

The court's admission of the videotape will form part of Mr. Fedorowicz's appeal, Mr. Athay added.

Mrs. Bluff's lawyer, Ed Brass, said his client is very disappointed, but "not prepared to give up."

The gruesome case hinged on who could have inflicted the extensive injuries on Rebecca, who arrived in Salt Lake City with her younger sister, Sarah, from Alberta with Mrs. Bluff just two weeks before her death.

Mrs. Bluff had left her husband and sought comfort from Mr. Fedorowicz, a friend to both herself and her husband.

The little girl's medical records from Mountain View, Alta., showed no signs of abuse. Prosecutors argued the beatings started when she arrived Mr. Fedorowicz's home.

A medical examiner testified that Rebecca's injuries were consistent with injuries inflicted by a blunt instrument. However, Mr. Fedorowicz and Mrs. Bluff claimed Rebecca fell down the stairs the day before her death and, save for a bruise on her face, no one noticed anything wrong with the girl until she fainted shortly before her death around 3 p.m. on Oct. 21.

In an emotional final address to the jury earlier in the day, prosecutor Robert Stott described this explanation as a "myth" concocted by two people who tortured and traumatized a little girl, then set about to cover their tracks.

Mr. Stott said the story never fooled anyone. Not the paramedics or police, who were immediately suspicious of the extent of Rebecca's injuries, nor a medical examiner, who testified the bruises were consistent with injuries received by a blunt instrument. The state argued that Mr. Fedorowicz and Mrs. Bluff used whips, chains and leather straps to restrain and beat Rebecca.

"She didn't get those injuries from falling down the stairs," Mr. Stott told the jury. "This little girl died of child abuse."

Mr. Stott described Rebecca as a vibrant, beautiful three-year-old who died an excruciating death. To drive home that point, he held up an autopsy photo depicting bruises to the soles of Rebecca's feet and quoted medical examiner Dr. Maureen Frikke, who testified this injury in particular would have been extremely painful.

Mr. Stott argued that no parent, or any person with common sense, would have failed to notice the severity of Rebecca's condition.

Mr. Fedorowicz and Mrs. Bluff maintained their calm exterior during closing arguments, dutifully writing notes and sometimes smiling. Only once, when Mr. Stott described Rebecca's loss of a future, did Mrs. Bluff drop her head and appear distressed.

Finally, Mr. Stott pointed to Dr. Frikke's testimony that Rebecca was likely dead for two hours before emergency crews arrived on the scene at 3 p.m. Mr. Stott argued that Rebecca died at about 1 p.m. and the pair took two hours to plan their story of Rebecca's tumble down the stairs before calling 911.

In the end, the jury agreed with the prosecutors' arguments that these stories just didn't add up. Mrs. Bluff told police the adults in the house were downstairs when Rebecca fell. Mr. Fedorowicz said the group was upstairs. Mrs. Bluff said the accident occurred at 3 p.m. on Oct. 20. Mr. Fedorowicz said it happened in the evening, at 7 p.m.

As to why Mr. Fedorowicz would have killed Rebecca, Mr. Stott explained: "He's a control man. He's a discipline man. He disciplined those children. He spanked them. They'd get on his nerves and he'd spank them again."

The Fedorowiczes and Bluffs had been friends for years. They first met at a Mormon church in Mississauga, Ont., where Mr. Fedorowicz taught in the 1980s. The Fedorowiczes moved to Mountain View, Alta., in 1995 and the Bluffs followed a few months later. Both Rebecca and Sarah were born there. The Fedorowiczes stayed only six months before moving to Salt Lake City, but the couples stayed in contact and remained close friends.

Much has been made of the bizarre ties that bound the two couples. Neighbours in Mountain View said both couples were highly secretive and kept to themselves. Mr. Fedorowicz has been described as a charismatic leader who demanded loyal dedication from his friends. In one letter to a friend in Mountain View, he described the charges against him as a conspiracy, adding he is using his time in prison to preach to other inmates.

Copyright © 1999 The Globe and Mail