Thursday, January 29, 2004

Motive will determine sentencing in slaying

By Sharon Coolidge
The Cincinnati Enquirer

There's no question Frederick Engelhardt killed his mother Diana then dumped her body in a cistern behind their Colerain Township home.

The only question is whether he beat his overbearing mother to death with a hammer in a fit of rage, or planned to kill her, Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Judge Norbert Nadel said.

Determining that will mean whether he spends a decade, or the rest of his life, in prison.

Nadel, who presided over the trial, said he will determine next week whether Engelhardt is convicted of voluntary manslaughter or murder in the beating death of his mother.

The case was eerily similar to the plot of the Alfred Hitchcock movie, Psycho, Nadel said. Prosecutors described Diana Engelhardt as a woman who sheltered her only son after his father's suicide - to the point that he had no outside life.

Numerous witnesses testified that they questioned the relationship between the mother and son for years, but rarely, if ever, intervened.

"You can never say you've seen it all," said Nadel, who has been a judge for more than 20 years.. "Listening to a case like this is like seeing an Alfred Hitchcock movie."

Engelhardt, 32, is charged with bludgeoning his 57-year-old mother to death on July 29, 2002Prosecutors said he thrust a claw hammer into the back of her head eight times and when she crumpled to the ground, he hit her one last time. Engelhardt then used electrical cords to lower her body into a well behind their home.

Engelhardt's death was discovered eight months later after her sister reported her missing. During those months, her son continued to live in the home and care for his mentally retarded aunt.

Dale Daniels said he didn't think his nephew meant to kill.

"After years of her controlling him, I guess he took all he could take," Daniels said.

Engelhardt, nicknamed Fritzy because he had the same name as his father, told police he lashed out at his mother after she came after him first. He said he grabbed the hammer out of her hand and was fighting back.

But Hamilton County Assistant Prosecutor Mark Piepmeier said his story doesn't hold up. Diana Engelhardt didn't have defensive wounds, he pointed out.

"Nowhere did the words: 'I'm sorry' appear. There's been no remorse,'' Assistant Hamilton County Prosecutor Karl Kadontold the judge during the trial. "There is no question this was purposeful."

Engelhardt's attorney, Timothy Cutcher, said his client was remorseful.

"He is the creation of his environment and his mother," Cutcher argued. "She kept him too close, she controlled him. She's the one who was violent, not Fritzy."

Engelhardt didn't dump her body in the well to hide it; he did it because he couldn't let go of his mother, Cutcher said.

His own words show how much he loved her, Cutcher said, referring to Engelhardt's taped statements to police:

"I lived with her all my life," he said. "I couldn't just lose her all of a sudden like that."


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