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Coverup in trunk-baby death?

U. Darby police chief accuses D.A. of holding back report due to noted-family's influence

Drexel Hill home of Albert E. Piscopo.
Drexel Hill home of Albert E. Piscopo.Read more

UPPER DARBY'S police chief yesterday accused the Delaware County District Attorney of a coverup on the autopsy of an abandoned infant because the mother is the granddaughter of a prominent businessman.

The infant was found Jan. 22 in the trunk of a car parked in front of the Drexel Hill home of Albert E. Piscopo, chief executive of the Glenmede Trust Co., an elite Philadelphia-based investment firm.

The family's attorney, Arthur Donato Jr., directed police to the trunk of a Volkswagen Beetle. Inside, detectives found a dead infant boy, swaddled in bloody clothes and his unbilical cord, in a pink tote bag. Investigators determined the child's mother was Piscopo's granddaughter, 18-year-old Drexel University student Mia Sardella.

Nearly four months after the discovery of the dead baby, no autopsy report has been released.

Upper Darby Police Superintendent Michael Chitwood contended that the medical examiner had determined the cause of death but that the information is being withheld from the public and police by the examiner and the D.A.'s office.

"If this would have been somebody from a lower socioeconomic background, would we be here today?" Chitwood asked. "My experience is we wouldn't be."

Joseph Brielmann, spokesman for the D.A.'s office, called that claim "patently ridiculous."

"Whatever delay in this case there has been, has not been the result of any socioeconomic disparity between one person and another," he said.

Chitwood said that "out of frustration" he held a news conference yesterday morning outlining his grievances, including a meeting Wednesday between the medical examiner and members of the D.A.'s office that excluded him.

"All we wanted was to be included," he said. "They forgot to invite us on purpose."

In a news conference held shortly after Chitwood's, Brielmann confirmed there had been a meeting Wednesday. He said that he didn't know if police had been invited but that a deputy district attorney intended to share the information with Upper Darby detectives.

Brielmann flatly denied Chitwood's claims that Medical Examiner Dr. Frederic Hellman had completed the autopsy.

Brielmann said Hellman is awaiting additional neuropathology information and expects to announce his findings early next week.

Calls to Hellman from the Daily News were not returned yesterday.

Despite Brielmann's denial, Chitwood insisted the D.A.'s office knows the cause and manner of death because someone there has shared the information with a lieutenant in his department.

"They're doing this double-dealing shuck-and-jive stuff, and it's not true," Chitwood said.

As he addressed reporters, flanked by detectives who'd worked the case, Chitwood said his department had completed its investigation, but "the rest of the system is not doing their job."

"It's an insult to me as a law-enforcement professional," he said. "I fault a system, whether it comes from the district attorney's office or the medical examiner's office, that does not share information on a case of this magnitude."

Chitwood said he has enough evidence to file charges of desecration of a corpse but needs to know from the medical examiner whether the birth was live or stillborn to determine whether homicide charges should be filed.

Brielmann said that once an autopsy report is complete, the D.A.'s office will meet with Upper Darby police to see if the case should be prosecuted.

"We are not being unprofessional about this investigation," he said. "We are handling this with all due diligence, as everybody in the public would expect us to handle this case. It involves the death of an infant child."

Still, Chitwood believes that his department is being kept out of the loop, something he feels is an insult to the detectives who've made this case a part of their lives.

"There wasn't a D.A. or medical examiner on the scene that day when these guys found this body," he said. *