Courts

Jury: Aventura man not guilty in wife’s death

 

The jury foreman said he believed the defense theory that Eleonora Kaufman died of heart failure, not strangulation.

dovalle@MiamiHerald.com

Over eight hours of deliberations Tuesday, jurors weighed whether Adam Kaufman was to blame for the sudden death of his wife, who sported strange marks on her neck and was found collapsed on the bathroom floor of their Aventura home in November 2007.

Their decision Tuesday was a resounding no — just after 6 p.m., the 12-member jury returned a verdict of not guilty.

The jury foreman, Bernard Jennings, a court-certified mediator, said he firmly believed the defense theory that Eleonora “Lina” Kaufman, 33, collapsed of a heart ailment, then fell onto a magazine rack.

“This was her stroke of luck from nature,” Jennings said, referring to a rare inflammation of the heart as described by defense medical experts.

For juror Ryan O’Donnell, the medical evidence from both sides was compelling, but there was simply nothing else to point to Kaufman, a real estate executive, as the killer.

“There just wasn’t enough evidence for anyone to say that beyond a reasonable doubt that he himself was the reason she expired,” O’Donnell said.

The acquittal was a stinging rebuke of a circumstantial-evidence prosecution and of Miami-Dade Chief Medical Examiner Bruce Hyma, whose ruling of “homicide by mechanical asphyxia” formed the crux of the state’s case.

Kaufman, 39, had been charged with second-degree murder and faced the possibility of life in prison.

“We all knew this day would come, it was just a question of when,” an emotional Kaufman, flanked by attorneys Bill Matthewman and Al Milian, told reporters after the verdict. “Today is the day.”

Said Matthewman: “It’s a wonderful day for the American justice system.”

Tuesday’s finish capped a dramatic month-long trial that featured exhausting testimony from nine medical doctors, a slew of firefighter-paramedics and Kaufman’s own relatives, including the mother of the dead woman, who testified in support of her son-in-law.

Prosecutors believed Kaufman strangled Eleonora Kaufman, the mother of his two children, leaving marks on her neck, burst blood vessels in her eyes and a host of bruises on her body.

The morning of his wife’s death, Kaufman called 911 to report that he found his wife collapsed on the bathroom floor. She was later pronounced dead at Aventura Hospital.

At trial, paramedics testified that Kaufman acted strangely in the hours after her body was discovered, and that he gave shifting versions of how he found her body.

In the end, the state’s case relied chiefly on the medical evidence, with Hyma and four other associate pathologists testifying about the litany of injuries Eleonora Kaufman suffered, including bruises deep in the muscles of her neck.

A suspicious emergency room doctor also testified about the injuries he observed, as did Eleonora Kaufman’s plastic surgeon, who said she had a clean bill of health before a breast augmentation several months before her death.

“She was not the victim of a diseased heart,” prosecutor Matthew Baldwin told jurors Tuesday. “She was the victim of a broken neck.”

Her friends also testified that she was an active woman with no serious health woes. But the friends and family also told jurors that Adam and Eleonora Kaufman had a storybook marriage — underscoring a significant hole in the state’s case: There was no evidence of a motive for the suspected attack.

And Kaufman’s defense team mounted a fierce attack on the medical evidence, offering two forensic pathologists, former Palm Beach County medical examiner John Marraccini and Michael Baden, a former New York City medical examiner who has been consulted on numerous high-profile cases.

Marraccini, proclaiming he “was on the hunt” for the true cause of death, testified that he discovered “scarring” in a sample of the woman’s heart that was missed by Hyma’s staff.

While Hyma and the state experts contended that the scar was not significant, Marriccini said it caused an “electrical disturbance” that led Eleonora Kaufman to faint. Marriccini even kneeled on the ground in front of the leather magazine rack to show how he believed how Kaufman’s wife fell, succumbing to accidental “positional asphyxia.”

Baden testified that the woman likely died of “congestive” heart failure. Both jurors, in interviews with The Miami Herald, said that Baden’s testimony was persuasive.

Matthewman and Milian also successfully attacked the integrity of the police investigation, lambasting Aventura police for failing to interview relatives about Eleonora Kaufman’s history of fainting, and for not impounding some of the evidence, such as the magazines in the rack.

They also ripped into the inexperienced lead detective, Anthony Angulo, and the married female crime-scene technician who admitted sleeping with him. In a scene replayed often by television news stations, the technician — after a withering defense cross-examination — slammed the courtroom door as she walked out.

O’Donnell, 23, a Barry University alumni relations employee, said he agreed that Dr. Hyma’s opinion relied too heavily on Aventura’s troubled police detective, who was not called to testify by either side.

“Garbage in, garbage out,” O’Donnell said of the investigation, echoing a defense line of questioning. “It’s an excellent point.”

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