By Ted Waddell
MONTICELLO December 12, 2003 Sullivan County District Attorney Stephen F. Lungen and a long line of police investigators stretching from Arizona to Pennsylvania and New York have been laying out their case all this week against former Sullivan County resident Diane Odell.
The 50-year-old mother of eight children was indicted on June 25 by a Sullivan County Grand Jury on six counts of murder in the second degree in the wake of the May 12, 2003 discovery of the mummified and/or badly decomposed remains of three infants found in a series of stained cardboard boxes in a storage shed in Safford, Ariz.
Odell was charged with six counts of murder (one count for each baby for intentionally causing the death of a person and a depraved indifference to human life, and recklessly causing the death of the babies).
According to the indictment, Dianne [her first name is spelled Dianne and/or Diane on various medical records], did knowingly, unlawfully and intentionally cause the infants death by traumatic asphyxia, which prevented the infant from breathing, and then placed the infant in a box wrapped in blankets and towels, placing the infant in a closet and thereafter hidden in an outside shed.
In what is being called The Babies in Boxes Murder Case, Sullivan Countys DA said in his opening remarks to the jury on Monday before Sullivan County Judge Frank J. LaBuda, This trial will be about a horrible story infants, babies born alive . . . the killing of infants who were born alive and who were entitled to the full protection of the law.
The deaths, as the births, were concealed for over 20 years until their mummified and decomposed bodies were found, he added, telling the jury of five men and seven women the trial was about snuffing out the lives of three newborns.
She hid the pregnancies because, in her words, they were the bastard children, said Lungen They were born out of wedlock. They died because they were the babies she did not need nor want.
According to testimony presented in court, Odells eight living children were born in various hospitals under medical supervision, while the three deceased babies were delivered by Odell at home on a bathroom floor.
Police Reconstruct Events
According to statements Odell reportedly made to police, the first two babies were born at her Hamilton House apartment (located on Route 17B), while the third was born at an apartment in Kauneonga Lake.
The deceased infants were reportedly born in 1982, 1983 and 1985.
On May 10, 2003, Thomas Bright bought the contents of storage shed #6 at an auction of unclaimed property in Safford, Ariz.
Documents showed the storage had been rented by Odell on July 5, 1991, but since June 1994 she had failed to pay rent.
Two days later, Bright started to examine the contents, and after opening up a stained cardboard box, Bright found what what he thought were the remains of a decomposed infant, so he called the local sheriffs department.
Diane Thomas, a detective sergeant with the Grand County Sheriffs Department (AZ), told the jury that while processing the crime scene, she discovered the remains of two more babies in boxes, wrapped in blankets. Baby #3 was shrouded in a black plastic trash bag.
As grisly photographic images were projected on a scene, the jury sat stone-faced while the defendant never once looked at the photos, she wept quietly while seated between her two Legal Aid attorneys, Stephan Schick and Tim Havas.
Inside the box was a smaller box, and when I opened the plastic bag, I saw what appeared to be a mummified infant, recalled Det. Sgt. Thomas of discovering Baby #3.
I could see the skull and backbone structure and the legs, she added.
Schick responded, Diane Odell has things she is accountable for, that she is responsible for. But she did not kill those babies, and she did not murder those babies. She wrapped those babies up and packed them up wherever she went because she couldnt bear to leave them behind.
As Odell moved around the country, the babies in boxes went along with her, until they found their final resting place more than 12 years ago in that Arizona shed.
When police came knocking, Odell was located working at a Rite-Aid pharmacy in Rome, Pa. on May 17, based on information discovered while authorities were examining the contents of the storage shed.
As the investigation continued, legal jurisdiction switched from Arizona to New York, when she told authorities the three babies had been born in the Empire State.
According to statements reportedly made by Odell during interviews conducted by authorities in Pa., she blurted out, Okay, they are my babies, and it was more than ten years ago.
Prior to this, Odell maintained the pregnancies were the result of a rape and two short-term relationships, and that she hid the pregnancies and resultant births out of fear of her mothers reaction to having children out of wedlock.
Putting Form to Figure
In the second day of the murder trial, DNA expert Stephen Swinton, supervisor of DNA services at the State Police lab in Albany, showed jurors a DNA chart he said established a conclusive genetic profile indicating Odell was the mother of Baby #2.
He said DNA tests on various body parts of Baby #1 were inconclusive due to the state of decomposition, while DNA tests on Baby #3 indicated a partial match to the defendant.
According to Dr. Michael Baden, a forensic pathologist with the State Police since 1985, one of Odells babies was suffocated by a towel stuffed down its tiny throat, one died under her thigh after birth and another died in an unknown manner caused by traumatic asphyxia.
He said an autopsy performed on June 4, 2003 indicated one baby was a boy, while another was a girl. The gender of the third infant could not be determined.
As Lungen projected X-rays of the babies onto the screen, the deceased took on human forms, much different than the photographic images that showed badly decomposed and mummified remains.
The X-rays showed little skeletons, perfectly formed but in some cases tangled into piles of bones by the passage of time.
The babies were basically skeletonized with some leathery tissues attached, said Dr. Baden. There was no evidence of disease or fractures. . . . They were newborns. The bones stayed pretty much intact after the soft tissues were destroyed [by the process of decomposition].
Dr. Baden said that, in his medical opinion, the babies were full-term, but the cause of death could not be determined due to the length of time between death and discovery.
He added that finding three dead infants under similar circumstances of concealment would be an important factor in establishing a probable manner of death.
According to Dr. Baden, the manner of the babies deaths was traumatic asphyxia caused by suffocation.
The pathologist ruled the deaths as homicides but explained to the spellbound jurors this was a medical judgment death at the hands of another not a legal judgment.
In response to some spirited cross-examination by Schick, Dr. Baden said, Something unnatural happened to those babies. Autopsies are independent of police theories. . . . Im a scientist, not a cop.
Editors Note: Further coverage of the trial will appear in Tuesdays issue.