Baby dead in trunk was alive at birth

The infant, found Jan. 22 by the mother of a Drexel freshman, had been asphyxiated, a report said.

Posted: May 22, 2007

The baby boy whose corpse was found four months ago in a car trunk in Drexel Hill was alive at birth and died as the victim of a homicide, authorities said yesterday.

The cause of death was asphyxiation, according to the Delaware County medical examiner, Fredric N. Hellman. In a one-page summary of his findings, the baby was named Lindsay.

The dead infant was discovered Jan. 22 by the mother of Mia Sardella, a 19-year-old Drexel University freshman. Criminal charges against the teenager are pending, Upper Darby Police Superintendent Michael J. Chitwood said yesterday.

They are likely to include desecration of a corpse and murder, said Chitwood and Joseph J. Brielmann, a spokesman for the District Attorney's Office. Charges may be filed today.

"The Upper Darby Police Department will make the decision on charges with cooperation from the District Attorney's Office," Brielmann said.

Sardella is the granddaughter of Albert E. Piscopo, chief executive of the Glenmede Trust Co., an investment firm that manages the assets of the Pew Charitable Trusts and other high-end clients.

Sardella's attorney, Arthur T. Donato Jr., said he had not seen the medical examiner's report as of late yesterday afternoon. "To the extent that there are any murder charges, we'll vigorously defend them," Donato said.

Donato, who was briefed by authorities on the findings, said the family would retain an independent expert to analyze Hellman's conclusions.

There has been extensive coverage of and public interest in the case, which Chitwood said stemmed in part from the prominence of Piscopo. He serves on a variety of boards, including those of the Opera Company of Philadelphia and Community College of Philadelphia.

Also, none of Sardella's friends, relatives or associates knew she was pregnant, Chitwood said. The baby's father, an unidentified former boyfriend of Sardella's, told police he asked Sardella about an apparent weight gain during a chance meeting with her in the fall. He said she blamed it on an adverse reaction to a birth-control patch, police said.

In a search of the Drexel Hill home where Sardella lived before attending college, police confiscated an article on the "denial of pregnancy" syndrome, which typically affects young girls who convince themselves they cannot be pregnant.

Doris C. Vallone, an associate professor at Widener University who has studied pregnancy denial, said, "Teenagers have magical thinking; they believe, if they don't deal with it, it will go away."

The case also has generated controversy because of Chitwood's remarks that there is a "two-tiered justice system" in America that affords special privileges for the affluent.

Early on, Chitwood accused defense attorneys of delaying interviews with family members, and last week he expressed concern that his investigators were excluded from a meeting with Hellman and representatives of the District Attorney's Office.

Yesterday, Chitwood declined to comment when asked whether he believed Piscopo's prominence had affected the handling of the case.

Brielmann said the case "has been handled just as any other case . . . with diligence and care. There's been absolutely no special treatment."

The investigation began after police received a phone call from Donato, who said Sardella's mother, Stephanie Leone, found the body, with the umbilical cord still attached, underneath some bloody towels in a tote bag in her car trunk. Police later said that Sardella gave birth to a 5- to 6-pound infant while she was home for the holiday break.

Donato said he called authorities after being contacted by Piscopo, Leone's father. Donato said Piscopo suspected the baby's mother was his granddaughter.


Contact staff writer Kathleen Brady Shea at 610-701-7625 or kbrady@phillynews.com.

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