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Couple held for trial in infant abuse case

| Monday, May 14, 2012, 3:11 a.m.

A Derry Township couple accused of abusing their 7-week-old infant were ordered held for trial Tuesday in Westmoreland County Court.

After hearing testimony during a preliminary hearing, Derry Township District Justice Mark Bilik ruled that enough evidence had been presented to support aggravated assault and other charges against James Matthew Sanfilippo, 22, of Longview Trailer Court in New Derry and his live-in girlfriend, Tonya Lee Piper, 19.

Trooper Ray Andrekanic of Troop A state police at Greensburg charged the couple Jan. 9 after an investigation into bruises and multiple fractures sustained by the infant girl before the couple took her to Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC Health System on Nov. 12.

Dr. Ev Vogeley of the hospital's child protection team testified via speaker phone yesterday that emergency-room doctors consulted her the night of Nov. 12, in part because of the bruises the infant had on her ears.

Vogeley said that one ear had a larger, one- or two-day-old bruise, or hematoma, which was consistent with intentionally inflicted trauma.

"You typically see this in boxers, what is known as a cauliflower ear," Vogeley said. "It involves a substantial amount of force."

She said doctors had to drain the hematoma to reduce the swelling.

Under questioning by Sanfilippo's defense attorney, Jeff Monzo, Vogeley said that she did not initially conclude that the bruises weren't accidental.

She said she arrived at her opinion after hearing possible theories about how the injury was incurred and reviewing full-body X-rays taken of the child.

Piper told Andrekanic Nov. 12 that she did not know how her daughter became bruised, but said it was possible that the infant had fallen out of a baby swing the previous week.

Under questioning by Piper's attorney, John Sweeney, Vogeley testified that the hematoma could not have been caused by a fall from a height of four feet or less, although falling onto a metal tube or pipe from that height could have caused the bruise.

Vogeley said the X-rays, taken Nov. 12, revealed partially healed, 10- to 14-day-old fractures to both the infant's upper leg bones and to three of her ribs.

"We usually don't see rib fractures, except in high-speed motor vehicle accidents, with this age group," Vogeley said.

The fractures had not been visible on full-body X-rays taken of the baby Oct. 16 at the request of one of the child's pediatricians, Vogeley said.

Andrekanic testified that Piper told him the infant had gas and that Sanfilippo squeezed her belly and cycled her legs in order to help her move her bowels.

Andrekanic said Sanfilippo told him in a Dec. 31 interview that he did not injure his daughter, but gave no statement about how he thought the infant had been injured.

In addition to the bruises and fractures, Vogeley said the infant had a burn inside her mouth, consistent with being fed overheated formula, and scabs and an infection on her nose and upper lip. Andrekanic said that Piper told him that the family dog stepped on the infant's face while she lay on the couch.

Andrekanic said he interviewed both Sanfilippo's and Piper's parents and an aunt, all of whom had cared for the infant on different occasions between Oct. 16 and Nov. 12.

They said the child was not injured while in their care, Andrekanic said.

Monzo said that Sanfilippo and Piper don't know what happened to their child and are searching for answers.

"As ridiculous as it sounds to blame someone else, it's just as ridiculous to blame Jim and Tonya," Monzo said.

Leo Ciaramitaro, Westmoreland County assistant district attorney, said that Vogeley's testimony had been key to the case.

"The doctor's testimony was conclusive that this was non-accidental trauma," Ciaramitaro said.

Sanfilippo and Piper were returned to Westmoreland County Prison where they were being held in lieu of $50,000 bond each on drug possession charges. Heroin and marijuana allegedly were found in their home while they were out on bond for earlier charges of aggravated assault, reckless endangerment, endangering the welfare of children and simple assault.

A preliminary hearing on the drug charges has been scheduled for 11:30 a.m. Feb. 6 before Bilik.

Bilik yesterday revoked Sanfilippo's bond of $25,000 and Piper's bond of $2,500 for the original charges.

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