- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

July 28—JEFFERSON — The murder trial for a Conneaut woman accused of fatally poisoning her husband with antifreeze began Monday.

Teresa Kotomski, 55, of 161 Fifield Ave., Conneaut, is charged with felony counts of murder and poisoning in the 2009 death of her estranged husband, Raymond Kotomski, 65, of Monroe Township. She was indicted in March 2014.

In December, Kotomski refused a plea deal from state prosecutors. The case was set to be brought before a jury Monday, however, Kotomski’s attorney, Paul Hentemann of Willoughby, filed a motion waiving a jury trial on July 21. Opening statements and testimony were made Monday before Ashtabula County Common Pleas Court Judge Gary Yost.

According to that testimony and opening statements made by prosecutors Paul Scarsella and Emily Pelphrey of the state Attorney General’s office, the Kotomskis had a strained home life — Raymond was described as “gruff” and persistently “angry” in statements and testimony, and the couple continuously argued about Raymond’s alcohol consumption. Teresa had moved out to a Conneaut apartment about a week before Raymond’s death.

But the couple appeared to be attempting to reconcile around the time investigators believe Raymond was poisoned with ethylene glycol, a toxic compound found in antifreeze.

Pelphrey told the court the dates surrounding the swift decline in Raymond’s health will be integral to the prosecution’s case — she said the symptoms Raymond exhibited align with the “textbook” progression of ethylene glycol poisoning.

“A poison is a progression,” she said. “The timeline will coincide to the last time the family spent together.”

However, throughout Monday’s proceedings, Hentemann repeatedly questioned the relevance of the timeline the prosecution was establishing — stating their timeline was inaccurate — as well as photos of the scene taken several days after the incident by sheriff’s department investigators.

Days after moving out of Raymond’s Hammonds Corners Road home, Teresa reportedly spent a day with him and his two grandchildren on Aug. 11, 2009 — eating lunch at McDonald’s in Andover and feeding fish at Pymatuning Lake. Teresa reportedly told investigators she and Raymond began quarreling again later that night, and she left abruptly.

The following day, Teresa again visited Raymond Kotomski for a couple hours she told investigators, but he appeared to be severely ill — groaning, seemingly in pain and complaining of a stomach sickness and a dry mouth.

He reportedly told Teresa he “drank something sweet” — one single indication given repeatedly to medical personnel and investigators throughout the incident and inquiry.

According to testimony from investigating Painesville FBI agent Bob McBride, Teresa told investigators she urged her husband to seek medical attention that day, but he was too wary of doctors and sent her away.

The next day, Aug. 13, 2009, Teresa called her mother — who lives near Raymond — and asked her to see if Raymond’s newspaper was still in the box outside his home. It was, leading Teresa to believe something was wrong, according to testimony — Raymond picked up his newspaper every morning. Teresa’s mother found Raymond unconscious in his bedroom. Teresa called 911 about 9:30 a.m.

Testimony began with the 911 operator on the other end of Teresa’s emergency call. Several responding paramedics with Pierpoint Volunteer Fire Department also took the stand, describing the symptoms he was exhibiting and the state of the scene.

“He was gasping for breath and he had a lot of foam around his mouth,” said Norm Woodard, a Pierpont paramedic, who said he questioned Teresa on the way to the hospital.

“She was very distraught,” he said.

Raymond was transported to Conneaut Medical Center, then later transferred to a Pennsylvania hospital, where he died three days later. A coroner’s examination revealed he died of complications from ingesting ethylene glycol.

The chemical is a sugar alcohol that consequently makes antifreeze taste sweet. Witnesses that that, though some brands of antifreeze include a bittering agent to avoid accidental ingestion, most major manufacturers did not start selling bitter antifreeze across the country until 2012.

Pierpont paramedic Edward Giblin, since retired, told the court a glucose test he performed on Raymond returned an abnormally high result. Also, Raymond’s blood oxygen levels were below the norm, explaining his labored breathing.

Ashtabula County Sheriff’s Department Detective Sean Ward also testified about the initial investigation conducted by the department, which was later joined by the Painesville and Cleveland branches of the FBI and, in 2012, the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation.

Upon serving a warrant to search the home on Aug. 19, 2009, three days after Raymond’s death, Ward said one opened yellow jug of antifreeze and one closed jug were found in Raymond’s garage and seized. No fingerprints were detected on the open jug. Investigators also noted a discolored spot of grass outside the home.

Mark Kollar, special agent supervisor for the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation — who began working on the case in 2012 after the bureau launched a new initiative aimed at solving “cold” cases — testified about the wiretap operation conducted on Teresa’s mobile and home phone, approved by since-retired Judge Alfred Mackey.

He said, initially, agents listened in around the clock, but “minimized” surveillance on phone calls deemed irrelevant to the criminal investigation or privileged calls from her attorney. In September of that year, he approached Teresa for an interview, but she declined to speak without her attorney present.

Hentemann questioned the subjective nature of phone conversations the bureau deemed relevant to the investigation but was overruled.

Much of the the rest of the prosecution’s witness testimony worked to establish a profile of Raymond Kotomski’s state of mind, to rule out the possibility of suicide. According to prosecutors, Raymond had made plans to purchase property in Pennsylvania and go on recreational trips with friends.

Today, Phyllis Holcomb, a woman believed to have had a verbal altercation with Raymond shortly before his death, will take the stand, along with Detective Taylor Cleveland of the Ashtabula County Sheriff’s Department and several physicians, including Dr. Elizabeth Gall of Hamot Medical Center in Erie, Pa., and Dr. Eric Vey, a forensic pathologist with the Erie County Coroner’s office.

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(c)2015 the Star Beacon (Ashtabula, Ohio)

Visit the Star Beacon (Ashtabula, Ohio) at www.starbeacon.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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