30 Years Later, Mother Charged In Deaths Of Children
February 22, 2002 at 6:33 PM EST - Updated July 3 at 5:00 PM
By JOE MILICIA, Associated Press Writer
NILES, Ohio (AP) - By age 21, she had already lost four babies just weeks after they were born.
Joseph died of pneumonia at a hospital. Melissa turned blue and was taken to the hospital but too late. Theodore and Regina both died in their cribs.
Gloria Greenfield, 52, said she grieved them all. Now, more than 30 years later, she has been charged in three of the deaths and could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted. An estranged daughter's call to obtain death records of her siblings in June 2000 prompted investigators to reopen the cases.
"I am innocent. I did not kill my children. I loved my children. I did not do this," Greenfield said.
The children died from natural causes, according to the original coroner whose death verdicts in other cases have been overturned.
Greenfield was indicted this month on three murder counts.
"It's a total nightmare. That's all I can say," she said shortly after being released from jail on $100,000 bond.
Greenfield also faces two assault charges that prosecutors say involve attacks on the daughter, Gloria Bennight.
Greenfield's attorney, Anthony Consoldane, said Bennight had stopped breathing when she was 44 days old and 80 days old and was taken by her mother to the hospital and revived.
Greenfield, formerly Gloria Jean Woods, lives a block away from the frame house where two of the babies died in this steel town 50 miles southeast of Cleveland.
"I was devastated. They were my children. I loved my children. I wanted my children," Greenfield said.
Bennight is the only surviving child of Greenfield's 1966 marriage to Theodore Woods. They later divorced, and Woods died in 1996.
"I still love my mom and care about her more than anything else," said Bennight, who cried at her mother's arraignment. "I never intended this to happen."
She said an aunt told her at age 8 that her siblings died of pneumonia and sudden infant death syndrome. She also knew that she stopped breathing one time as a baby.
Bennight said she asked for the death records only because she was curious. Niles police Capt. Guy Simeone said Bennight's unusual records request prompted investigators to take another look at the deaths.
Greenfield's attorneys said Bennight has a grudge against her mother.
"There's just bad blood between them," Consoldane said. He would not elaborate.
Bennight has not spoken to her mother for about four years, a grudge that started when she named her child Theodore, to honor her father, she said. Greenfield has never met the grandson, now 4.
Another daughter, Tonya Schubert, 22, who was born during a second marriage declined comment, along with her father, Richard.
Greenfield is now married to her third husband, truck driver Claude David Greenfield.
"My wife's innocence will shine through. She doesn't have a mean bone in her body," he said.
The three babies, all less than a month old, were originally determined to have died from SIDS in 1969, 1970 and 1971.
The cases aren't the first of former coroner Dr. Joseph Sudimack Jr.'s to be reinvestigated. Several of his rulings have been overturned and declared homicides -- some cases where no autopsies were conducted.
Sudimack was coroner from 1961 to 1987 and was president of the Ohio State Medical Association in 1991. He is retired and living in Columbus.
Dr. Humphrey Germaniuk, who reinvestigated the deaths, said three SIDS deaths cannot occur in one family.
"It doesn't happen," said Germaniuk, a forensic pathologist at the Trumbull County coroner's office since 1998. "It's a well-known fact in forensic medicine that multiple sudden infant deaths in the same family are nothing more than multiple infant homicides."
Sudimack was a medical doctor, but not a forensic pathologist.
Germaniuk said that may be why the deaths did not appear suspicious to him. Sudimack declined comment through his attorney, H. Ritchey Hollenbaugh.
Germaniuk determined that two of the children, Theodore and Regina, died of asphyxia. He also changed the cause of death of the third child, Melissa, to undetermined. Greenfield is charged in the deaths of all three.
Germaniuk has declined to say exactly why he reached the new rulings. He did not amend an earlier ruling on Joseph Woods, who died of pneumonia at age 2 months in 1967.
Police, the prosecutor and coroner's office have released little information on the case. Germaniuk said the bodies will not be exhumed.
"To me, I really don't need to have the bodies exhumed to arrive at my conclusions," Germaniuk said.
Theodore and Regina are buried next to each other on a hillside at Niles City Cemetery in a section for babies and newborns, where some graves are decorated with snowmen and angels.
Experts have not determined what causes SIDS, which kills about 3,000 children a year, though theories include brain abnormalities and overheating.
Laura Reno, spokeswoman for the National SIDS Alliance in Baltimore, said it would be a rare occurrence for a SIDS death to happen three times in one family, but the possibility could not be ruled out.
"A lot of our researchers feel that it does not run in families," she said.
She said on rare occasions, SIDS deaths have been reclassified as being caused by metabolic disease, a heart defect or abuse.
Today, infant deaths are examined more closely, said Betty McEntire, executive director of the American SIDS Institute in Marietta, Ga.
"Back in those days we knew very little about SIDS," McEntire said. "We all knew families that supposedly it happened in more than once -- not many that it happened in more than twice."
(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)