A North Carolina sheriff's office has lost the recordings of of a Deerfield woman admitting to investigators that she smothered her infant daughter, prosecutors say.
Jeffrey Sapienza’s eyes were fixed on the shackled woman in an orange jumpsuit walking through an Oneida County courtroom Wednesday on her way to be arraigned on charges that she murdered their infant daughter.
As LeeAnn Wimmers, 20, told a judge her birth date and last address, Sapienza sat stone-faced in the courtroom gallery. It was the first time he’d seen Daniella Sapienza’s mother since Wimmers’ June arrest.
As Wimmers pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder, two new developments emerged that could change the course of the case in which prosecutors allege Wimmers pressed 4-month-old Daniella against her chest last year in an attempt to stop her cries, resulting in her death:
-- Officials in the Buncombe County Sheriff's Office in North Carolina cannot retrieve video and audio recordings of Wimmers’ admission to investigators that she was responsible for Daniella’s April 2008 death in a Deerfield home, prosecutors said.
“They can’t get it off the hard drive,” District Attorney Scott McNamara said.
-- Wimmers’ attorney, Frank Nebush Jr., told prosecutors he plans to argue that Wimmers was not responsible for Daniella’s killing because of her mental condition.
In the case of the lost recordings, prosecutors still have a written statement Wimmers made to Oneida County sheriff’s investigators, and there are recordings of conversations she had with local authorities, McNamara said.
Still, the lost recordings could complicate the case and could be an advantage for the defense, he said.
“It’s going to create an issue at the trial,” McNamara said.
Nebush said he thought the tapes might yield insight on his client’s mental state, so he did not consider the lost recordings a favorable development.
Utica police Sgt. Anthony Martino, who investigates computer crimes, will examine the computer that holds the recordings in an attempt to retrieve them, McNamara said.
A spokesman for the Buncombe County Sheriff's Office, Lt. Ross Dillingham, said his department has had trouble with recordings in several of its cases. Authorities there are working to correct the system that stores all conversations between police and suspects in homicide investigations, he said.
“It’s a new system we put in a year ago,” he said.
Dillingham said he was not familiar with what happened to the recordings in the Wimmers case.
Wimmers has previously been hospitalized for psychiatric illness and was sexually abused as a foster child, said Nebush, the chief public defender in Oneida County. Wimmers has attempted suicide in the past, he has said.
Wimmers, who has been examined by a defense psychologist who is working now to prepare a report, will also be interviewed by a psychologist hired by prosecutors.
Both reports will be presented to county court Judge Barry M. Donalty.
“We’ll just have to see what the evaluations are,” Nebush said, citing the possibility of a defense based on the possibility that Wimmers was not responsible for Daniella’s death because of mental disease or defect.
Subpoenaed records from the county Department of Social Services have now been turned over to Donalty. Nebush and Assistant District Attorney Laurie Lisi will review those documents in the coming weeks.
Wimmers is due back in court Tuesday, Sept. 15.
At the time of Daniella’s death, she was living on Fineview Drive in Deerfield with Jeffrey Sapienza and his family.
She left early this year for Ashville, N.C. to live near her mother and was arrested there in connection with Daniella’s death two months ago.
Wimmers has been held at Oneida County jail without bond since she was extradited from North Carolina. She is pregnant.
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