Jury finds Ellen Tran guilty of causing toddler's death after four-day trialSubmitted: 10/25/2018
Ben Meyer
Ben Meyer
Managing Editor / Senior Reporter

Jury finds Ellen Tran guilty of causing toddler's death after four-day trial
RHINELANDER - An Oneida County jury found Ellen Tran, 30, guilty of first-degree reckless homicide after one hour, 39 minutes of deliberation on Thursday afternoon.

Tran showed no expression as she was placed in handcuffs and walked out of the courtroom by sheriff's deputies. She now faces up to 60 years in prison when sentenced.

The jury started deliberating at 12:36 p.m. on Thursday. Eight men and four women reviewed four days worth of evidence in this case.

It considered whether Tran caused the death of 20-month-old Avery Edwards in April 2017 at a home near Rhinelander. Tran said her stepson slipped in the shower on the night he died. But prosecutors believe much more happened.

In his closing argument to the jury Thursday morning, Oneida County District Attorney Michael Schiek admitted he didn't know exactly what happened to Edwards the night of April 14, 2017. But he was confident Tran did it.

"Was she holding him by the legs? I don't know. Was she holding him by the arms? Throw him against the wall in the bathroom? I don't know. But all of those bruises are consistent with something like that," Schiek told the jury.

Bruises marked the body of Edwards when he died later that night.

"A 20-month-old against an adult. It's not a fair fight," Schiek said.

Tran was the only adult home when she called 911 at around 6:25 p.m. that night. During that call, Tran made no mention of Edwards slipping in the shower, the story she later told investigators. Schiek contended the narrative about a fall in the shower was simply a cover story for more serious harm Tran did.

Schiek said Tran's defense strategy was to "throw up some softballs and see what works."

Defense attorney Jonas Bednarek argued there were too many alternate possibilities to explain Edwards' death to convict Tran.

"I can't tell you exactly what happened," Bednarek said. "I wish I could, but I can't. And nobody can."

Bednarek offered influenza or a pseudoephedrine overdose as possible explanations.

He also singled out Trung Tran as a suspect.

"Is there suspicion there? Damn right. He is not a good man. We can all agree on that. He is a bad man. He's a bad father. He's a bad husband. Dammit, he was probably a bad doctor, too," Bednarek said.

Trung Tran was Edwards' father and Ellen's wife at the time. It's easy to imagine Trung Tran getting violent with Edwards, Bednarek argued. In testimony earlier Thursday, past wives and girlfriends of Trung Tran called him an abuser who skipped on child support.

Suzanne and Trung Tran were married four or five years before their divorce in 2007. They had two children together.

"I know there was once or twice that he did slap my daughter in the face," Suzanne Tran said. "I said that, you know, this was the icing on the cake. I'm going to leave."

Trung Tran then dated Candice Joiner for six years until 2012, fathering a child by her. She testified about his emotional and physical abuse to her and the child.

"He picked me up by my neck off the floor and proceeded to beat me with his hands and knees," Joiner said.

Joiner told the jury Trung Tran was uninterested in paying child support after the two split. In fact, she said, Trung Tran terminated the parental rights to his son instead of paying child support.

Ellen Tran's defense team portrayed Trung Tran as willing to do almost anything to avoid paying child support for Edwards, his son. Lawyers implied he might go so far as to inflict deadly injuries.

Ellen Tran chose not to testify in her own defense.

Early in its deliberation, the jury asked to review a report by a Marshfield Clinic doctor who inspected Edwards' body after death.

Her sentencing has not yet been scheduled.

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