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Saturday, July 17, 1999Mother, friend guilty of murdering daughter, 3
Pair faces life sentences
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah - A Utah jury deliberated just 95 minutes before convicting a Canadian mother and her male friend of the torture and killing of the woman's three-year-old daughter Rebecca, condemning the pair to what could be life sentences in U.S. prisons.
Kristan Jacobsen, The Associated Press
Ferosa Bluff, 27, cries during closing arguments in Salt Lake City's Third District Court yesterday. Bluff and co-defendant Andrew Fedorowicz were found guilty of murdering Bluff's daughter Rebecca.
Ferosa Bluff, 27, and Andrew Fedorowicz, 47, listened with little reaction as the verdict was read in Utah's 3rd District Court, but appeared pallid as they were led away in handcuffs. Bluff's husband, Todd, wiped away tears as he strode from the courthouse, refusing to speak to reporters.
Despite having the option of finding the pair guilty of the lesser charge of child-abuse homicide, the nine jurors convicted them on all of the original counts -- first-degree felony murder, child abuse and the sexual abuse of a child. Both face between one and 15 years in prison for each of the child abuse and sex abuse charges, and between five years and life for the murder counts.
"We're naturally very happy with the verdict," said Bob Stott, an assistant district attorney who delivered final arguments for the prosecution. "And we're happy that there's some justice for Rebecca Bluff."
Added Steve Jentzsch, the lead investigator on the case for the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office: "[This verdict] is what's appropriate. They committed these crimes and they'll be sentenced accordingly. It's a sad day for them, but it's a happy day for Rebecca."
The jury reached its quick decision -- pausing only to lunch on sandwiches -- despite repeated attempts by lawyers to obtain a mistrial, or to have the charges dismissed. Attorneys for both Mr. Fedorowicz and Ms. Bluff said they plan to appeal the verdict.
Bluff's lawyer, Ed Brass, said his client was "very disappointed" by the decision "but she's not prepared to give up."
Fedorowicz's lawyer, Gilbert Athay, said his appeal would be based partly on his argument that Judge Dennis Frederick allowed a videotape of the three engaged in sadomasochistic sex to be described in court, which he said unduly prejudiced them against his client.
"I wish the law had been followed correctly, but the jury has spoken and we accept it," he said. "Mr. Fedorowicz maintains his innocence, but he accepts the verdict too ... there will be an appeal."
Mr. Fedorowicz and Ms. Bluff were charged on Oct. 22, 1998 -- one day after Rebecca was found unconscious and not breathing on the bathroom floor of the townhouse where Ms. Bluff lived with Mr. Fedorowicz and his wife, Suzanne. She had moved with Rebecca and her other daughter, Sarah, to Salt Lake City three weeks earlier from Mountain View, Alta., after her marriage with Mr. Bluff began to fall apart.
At the time of Rebecca's death, Mr. Fedorowicz told police the girl's wounds were caused by a tumble down a flight of stairs. But a medical examiner later concluded she had endured some 72 hours of torture with whips and blunt objects before bleeding to death from internal injuries. More than half of her body, including her genitals and the soles of her feet, were covered in bruises. Her ankles showed abrasions consistent with being restrained. Her head had been badly cut, and her buttocks appeared to be a giant mass of bruising.
Following up with a search of the house, police retrieved a collection of pornography including the videotape, which showed a nude Ferosa Bluff whipping Mrs. Fedorowicz's buttocks with a cat o' nine tails while the other woman was chained to a bed -- much in the fashion police believe was used to torture Rebecca. In one scene, Mr. Fedorowicz himself appeared on the screen naked, toying with a chain that is attached to Mrs. Fedorowicz's neck. In another, he could be heard giving orders to the two women from off-camera, Det. Jentzsch testified.
The tape was not played in the courtroom, but Det. Jentzsch said the equipment the adults were using in it looked like whips, restraints and straps retrieved from Mr. Fedorowicz's apartment during a search.
Dr. Maureen Frikke, the medical examiner who performed an autopsy on Rebecca's body, later showed jurors how some of the girl's injuries were consistent with the whips and straps seized from the house. Dr. Frikke, Det. Jentzsch and two other doctors who examined the girl all described it as the worst case of child abuse they had ever seen.
"The medical examiner was the Michael Jordan of our team," prosecutor James Cope said following the verdict, referring to the retired basketball star. "She was our best player."
Remarkably, the jury reached its verdict with only an inkling about the character of Mr. Fedorowicz, whom the state argued was primarily responsible for Rebecca's death.
Again and again during the four-day trial, defence lawyers stymied attempts by the prosecution to introduce information about the former Ontarian's beliefs, his values and -- most importantly -- his legendary influence over the people who surrounded him.
Mr. Fedorowicz's apparent ability to manipulate others was crucial to the state's case because, in opening arguments, prosecutors promised not only to prove Mr. Fedorowicz had administered the fatal beating, but also that Ms. Bluff was guilty of allowing the torture to happen.
To do so, they had persuade the nine jurors that a mother could, for any reason, expose her child to the astonishing levels of abuse Rebecca endured before dying.
Mr. Brass and Mr. Athay objected when the district attorneys asked about Mr. Fedorowicz's past relationship with the Bluff family when they all lived back in Canada, where Mr. Fedorowicz first styled himself as prophet, mixing Mormon beliefs with astrology and other religious writings. They also insisted the judge severely limit the prosecution's use of the videotape evidence showing Mr. Fedorowicz as the ringmaster in a sadomasochistic sex scene.
The closest the prosecution came to introducing Mr. Fedorowicz's character was during closing arguments, when Mr. Stott spoke of a potential motive.
"[Mr. Fedorowicz] is a control man, he's a discipline man," Mr. Stott said, referring to Mr. Fedorowicz's admission to police he had "disciplined" Rebecca several times over the previous two weeks, allegedly for threatening her younger sister, Sarah.
"He spanked those children. He'd spank them and they'd get on his nerves and he'd spank them again."
Ms. Bluff, for her part, remained serene throughout the trial, drying her eyes only twice as witnesses described the cruelty enacted against her child. The South African-born mother will be held until sentencing in the mental health unit of the Salt Lake County jail, as will Mr. Fedorowicz.
Their sentence hearing is scheduled for Aug. 20.
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