Originally created 02/26/97

Baby sitter acquitted of murder



APPLING - A jury acquitted an Evans woman of murder Tuesday, instead finding her guilty of the lesser charge of misdemeanor involuntary manslaughter.

Lorraine Yelenic, 30, was charged with murder for the November 1995 death of her 2-year-old niece, Amanda Faith Clark, whom she was baby-sitting at the time of the child's collapse. The child died the next day, and Ms. Yelenic was arrested in May after pathology and forensics reports listed the child's cause of death as strangulation.

Ms. Yelenic tearfully hugged her attorney Mike Garrett as the four-woman, eight-man jury returned the verdict, which carries with it a possibility of one year in prison or a $1,000 fine.

Throughout the two-day trial, Mr. Garrett focused on the state's lack of evidence connecting Ms. Yelenic to Amanda's death and centered his attack on the prosecution's key witness, Atlanta pathologist Dr. John Parker.

During his testimony, Dr. Parker said he found a red mark on the child's throat and listed the child's death as ligature strangulation. But emergency medical technicians and doctors who attended Amanda before her death did not notice the mark. Mr. Garrett also argued that any mark found on the child could have been caused by physicians working to save her life.

Jury forewoman Letitia Jones said after the trial that without direct evidence that Ms. Yelenic caused the mark, they could not find her guilty of murder.

"There was not enough evidence to convict her of everything," she said. "It could have been strangulation, but the doctors could have done it putting in the tubes or the oxygen mask."

Ms. Yelenic has already served nine months at the Columbia County Detention Center awaiting trial. Judge Bernard Mulherin will preside over sentencing later this week or next week.

Prosecutor Nancy Johnson and Mr. Garrett both said they considered the verdict a victory.

Amanda's mother, Sandy Clark, was visibly distraught, however, after the verdict was read.

"I don't know if it would have mattered if they found her guilty of murder or a lesser charge," Mrs. Clark said. "My daughter is still in the ground somewhere."