Bluff’s anxiety focused mostly on his children. Rebecca was his first child, just two months short of her fourth birthday. Bluff, then 27, worried also about his 2-year-old daughter and who was caring for her while her mother was in jail.
As he drove, he didn’t know that police suspected Rebecca had been murdered. Arrested two days after were Rebecca’s mother, Ferosa Bluff, then 26; and family friends Andrew and Suzannah Fedorowicz, both 45 at the time.
Ferosa Bluff had left her husband about three weeks earlier after they decided to separate, and took their two daughters to stay with the Fedorowiczes as she plotted her future following the Bluff’s planned divorce.
“I was pissed off at Andrew on my way down to Utah,” Todd Bluff says. “It happened in his house. He’s the man of the house. He’s supposed to keep my kids safe. ... I was trying to place blame somewhere, [but] in my mind, this wasn’t a deliberate act. An accident must have happened,” Bluff says today from his home in Canada, where he still lives. This is the first time Todd Bluff is speaking publicly about the case.
photographed in prison in 2010
photographed in prison in 2010
Two days later, prosecutors publicized a salacious twist: A search of the Fedorowiczes’ townhome at 1287 E. Vine Gate Drive found sadomasochistic sex toys such as leather straps, whips and restraints, as well as four video tapes depicting the Fedorowiczes and Ferosa Bluff using those toys in consensual, role-playing sex games. Salt Lake County prosecutors listed the sex toys in charging documents that are routinely obtained by the news media and alleged that sex toys caused bruises that led to the child’s death.
Todd Bluff—who, even as an ex-spouse of Ferosa, never believed the accusations—hoped the courts would discover the truth, but through a series of ineffective defense strategies and betrayals, he says, even the defense attorneys failed. In July 1999, Andrew Fedorowicz and Ferosa Bluff were convicted of murder, child abuse and sexual abuse of a child. In 2002, they lost appeals before the Utah Supreme Court. In 2010, they each maintained their own and each other’s innocence during their initial parole hearing. As he hoped every step of the way that the system would correct itself, Todd is now attempting to expose what he sees as tragic false convictions and perhaps attract some experts to their cause.
Over the past several years, Todd Bluff—who’s now remarried—and Suzannah Fedorowicz—whose charges were dropped in 1999 before trial in exchange for the two remaining defendants waiving their preliminary hearings (a hearing that is rarely beneficial to defendants anyhow)—have compiled hundreds of pages of research that they say proves not just that Andrew Fedorowicz and Ferosa Bluff are innocent, but that no one else is guilty of murdering Rebecca either.
Suzannah Fedorowicz declined to comment for this story except to say that she helped Todd with his ongoing investigation.
They claim Rebecca’s extensive bruising and internal bleeding can be explained by a previously undiagnosed blood disorder. Multiple prosecution witnesses said no tests were done to rule out this possibility. The research also accuses authorities of lies, smears and innuendo, like using a video tape of consensual adult bondage-sex games as evidence of child abuse and murder, or hinting to the jury, without evidence, that the defendants had a cult-like relationship, which prosecutors still hint about today but refuse to discuss in detail.
Todd Bluff has presented the research to the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole, the governor’s office, to news reporters—to anyone who will listen. To him, his files are the defense his friends should have received long ago.
Ferosa Bluff, now 39, was born in South Africa to a father of Middle Eastern descent but moved with her family to Canada when she was still a baby. “When I met her [at 16 or 17 years old], she was Muslim, but through the same friend who introduced us,” Todd Bluff says, “she was already introduced to the [LDS] Church.” The two met at a church dance. Ferosa converted to the church and married Todd Bluff soon after, just seven months after their first date. Both were still teenagers.
Todd Bluff had known the Fedorowiczes longer than he had known his own wife. Andrew had been the teacher of a youth group in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that Todd Bluff attended in the Toronto area when he was 15. “I was friends with a lot of adults in the ward, as is very typical,” Todd says.
After they married, Ferosa became a stay-at-home mom. Their relationship with Andrew and Suzannah Fedorowicz grew stronger over time.
The Fedorowiczes moved from the Toronto area to Ottawa and later San Francisco, but the couples still socialized and stayed in each others’ homes when they traveled. “At this point, Andrew was absolutely my best friend, and vice versa,” Todd Bluff says.
By their mid 20s, marriage satisfaction waned for the Bluffs, however. Neither Ferosa nor Todd offer any specific details as to why. “We got married very young. We had changed, I guess. It just wasn’t there,” Todd Bluff says. During an interview at the prison, Ferosa said “irreconcilable differences” prompted the split.
The split was amicable and planned-out. Ferosa was going to take a vacation of indefinite length at the Fedorowiczes’ home in Salt Lake City. Todd says they decided quickly that she should take the children—at least at first—because of his work schedule.
About three weeks after Ferosa Bluff arrived in Salt Lake City with the two children, after a 12-hour shift at the cheese factory where he worked, Todd Bluff had a message from the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Department asking for a call back. When he called, Todd says, the officer said, basically, “Your daughter is dead, Ferosa has been arrested, you need to get down here.”
“So, I hopped in the car and drove all night.”
The defense made little effort to explain Rebecca’s physical condition at trial. Defense attorneys Gilbert Athay and Edward Brass called only two witnesses: Todd Bluff and a family friend, but no expert who could talk about blood diseases and whether a disease might explain Rebecca’s bruises and death. Their strategy, clearly outlined in their opening statements and recalled by Juror No. 2, Randall Thayne, was merely to argue that the prosecution didn’t have enough evidence to prove its case.
In theory, in a system where a defendant is innocent until proven guilty, that’s a great strategy, says Ferosa Bluff’s first defense attorney, Stephen McCaughey, but, “It was real hard to understand how she got that massive bruising. ... You’ve have to explain that somehow, and there was no explanation.”
Todd Bluff and Suzannah Fedorowicz’s re-examination aims to provide that explanation, but explaining how Rebecca got so many bruises has never been easy. At their trial, the medical evidence dominated. There were no witnesses who saw or heard anything that suggested Rebecca was abused. As Thayne put it, recalling the trial more than a decade later, “There wasn’t much for evidence. Just [Rebecca’s] body.”
Go to page two to continue the story or read the Re-examination Files
The prosecutors’ theory of the case begins simply.
Ferosa Bluff told police, and maintains to this day, that she was with her children virtually the entire three weeks she stayed at the Fedorowiczes’ Utah home. Thus, no one had access to Rebecca to cause the bruises without her mother’s knowledge. They had initially tried to revive Rebecca in cold water in the bathtub—and say they first noticed the bruises when they took her clothes off to do so—but quickly switched to CPR and called 911 when Rebecca stopped breathing.
Also, forensic pathologist and Assistant State Medical Examiner Maureen Frikke (now deceased) and the other doctors testified that the colors of the bruising suggested that most of the bruises were inflicted in the 24 to 72 hours before Rebecca’s death.
So, if Ferosa Bluff were the only one with access to the children, and the doctors believed the injuries were caused intentionally, then it follows that Ferosa must have caused the injuries—or someone else who was with her. Neither she nor the Fedorowiczes have a history of violence, nor any criminal record at all, but as Deputy District Attorney Bob Stott points out, every bona fide criminal has a first criminal act.
But the prosecutors’ case had other important elements.
Whether intentional or not, Stott still engages in what the convicts consider an unfair straw-man argument. “Their defense was ‘she fell down the stairs,’ ” Stott told City Weekly, recounting why Ferosa Bluff and Andrew Fedorowicz were immediately suspected of lying. “That was their defense and all the experts say no.” Ferosa Bluff says neither she nor anyone made the claim that falling down the stairs explained all the injuries, however. “I mentioned the [stairs] because they had asked me, ‘Had she been injured?’ I stated simple facts. I never once said that was causing her bruising,” Ferosa Bluff told Board of Pardons and Parole hearing officer Angela Micklos in October 2010. “That was taken out of context.”
In addition to a figure-eight bruise on Rebecca’s arm, several other pattern bruises were said to match pieces of bondage-sex toys found in the Fedorowiczes’ home. Frikke testified abrasions, or scratches, on her back suggested a whipping from the cat-o’-nine-tails or a similar object. Nine photos of Rebecca’s corpse were presented to the jury.
One of the doctors who testified on behalf of the prosecution—the defense did not present its own medical expert—said that he would “certainly agree” that in suspected child-abuse cases testing should be done to try to rule out the possibility of a blood disorder, but also said that’s difficult to do with patients who are dead. All three doctors who testified, however, were asked about the possibility of a blood disorder explaining Rebecca’s death, and all three rejected that theory based on the appearance of the injuries. Even someone with a blood disorder needs a little bump to cause a bruise, and one doctor said Rebecca had many bruises in areas that would not normally be bumped by anything—for example, her genital area—and even someone lacking platelets needs a little bump to cause a bruise. Another pointed to various abrasions in the skin, which may suggest the bruises and scratches were caused by the same thing.
Click here to read the Re-Examination Files
authored by Todd Bluff and Suzannah Fedorowicz
Since the prosecutors’ case was largely about Rebecca’s body, so, too, is Todd and Suzannah’s re-examination, focusing on the bruises captured both in photographs and described in the autopsy report authored by Frikke.
An autopsy photo of the figure-8 bruise the medical examiner said was caused by a sex toy.
The type of mark an EKG pad would leave on the skin of a healthy person.
Their re-examination questions, for example, why Rebecca’s neck was severely bruised, as shown in photos, yet the autopsy report states there’s no evidence of an external injury there. Frikke testified she found evidence of internal injuries in Rebecca’s neck, but said it was unlikely that the first responders’ three attempts to intubate Rebecca would have caused this neck injury. So, what did? That was not determined at trial. The files suggest that if Rebecca had ITP, something as gentle as a neck collar used by first responders to prevent spinal injuries could have caused the bruising. More internal bleeding was found in Rebecca’s chest in muscles that control breathing, but that bleeding was not accompanied by any evidence of trauma to the rib bones, according to the autopsy.
The re-examination even argues that alleged pattern bruises, those that appear to have left a bruised marking on Rebecca’s skin in the shape of the object that caused them, came from medical interventions. The re-examination shows that the figure-eight bruise that Frikke testified probably came from a leather strap with two rivets is the correct dimensions and in the right spot to have been caused by the EKG lead, the part of the heart monitor that was attached to Rebecca’s upper arms. A plastic EKG lead would not cause a bruise unless, perhaps, as the re-examination argues, Rebecca lacked platelets.
There’s no doubt Rebecca’s bruises were growing and expanding, even after death. Frikke noted in her autopsy that a small band of unbruised skin on Rebecca’s back was noticeable on the first day of inspection of Rebecca’s body, “partially obliterated” by expanding bruises the second day, and “totally obliterated at the third examination.”
SEX TAPE EVIDENCE
Defense attorney Ed Brass argued during trial that, despite their claims to the contrary, prosecutors would unfairly bias the jury against the defendants by describing a sex tape found in the Fedorowiczes’ home in which bondage-sex toys like straps and whips were used in consensual play between Ferosa and the Fedorowiczes. “To say that two people who would use a whip in a consensual activity would somehow then intentionally, against a child’s will, beat that child to death—they’re distinct acts,” Brass argued to 3rd District Judge Dennis Frederick, now retired. “[But] that’s what the State is going to argue to this jury at the end is propensity: ‘If you use a whip on one occasion, you’ll use it on another occasion.’ ”
Frederick ruled against that motion, stating a description of the sex tape proved two things that are relevant to the case: 1. that the defendants used the sex toys alleged to have contributed to Rebecca’s death, and 2. that their use was intentional, not accidental. The Utah Supreme Court upheld that ruling on appeal.
A review of the trial transcript shows that prosecutors never argued explicitly that people engaged in bondage sex are more likely to harm a child, but the jury picked up on prosecutors’ suggestion. When asked if he understood the relevance of the sex tape in the case, juror No. 2, Randall Thayne said, “They were just living out fantasy ... [and] somewhere along the line they decided to include [Rebecca] in this. ... The suggestion was that the original fun was hitting her on the butt with the cat-o’-nine-tails and straps.”
But the theory that formed the basis for his vote for conviction—in which Rebecca was ritually abused in sadomasochistic fantasy in the 24 to 72 hours before her death—ironically, is not fully endorsed by either Stott or the chief investigator of the case, former Salt Lake County Sheriff Deputy Steven Jentzsch. “It wasn’t the whip that caused the death. It wasn’t the leather straps that caused the death,” Stott said. “They were used on the child, but we’re not claiming they were the cause of death. She wasn’t whipped to death.”
So, what other nonaccidental blunt-force traumas does Stott suspect led to Rebecca’s death? He doesn’t know and won’t speculate. Jentzsch said, “If you don’t want to be bothered by a child ... whether it’s sexual or not, you lash out, you beat a child, and you just kind of go from there.”
But at least for one juror, the prosecutors’ theory of the case became more believable after an end-of-trial twist, which Todd Bluff says is so baseless and offensive that he will sue anyone who repeats it in public.
“Through the trial I thought [Stott] was a little inept,” Thayne told City Weekly. “I didn’t remember specific incidents, but I remember thinking, ‘When is this guy going to kick it in gear?’ ... Toward the end of trial, [Stott] hit on that Fedorowicz was a prophet-type thing, to the point that [his friends] wore ponytails to emulate him.” Thayne admits the evidence presented was slim but says the jury got the point and believed it.
Prosecutors alleged that Andrew Fedorowicz had a cult-leader-like hold over his friends’ thoughts and actions but didn’t call any witnesses who claimed this was true. Even in 2011, Stott recalls friends of the defendants in the courtroom who “looked like Fedorowicz with the ponytail, under his control,” and that despite their claims to be long-term friends who met at church, the group explains “who these people really are ... [and] what draws them together.” In contrast to other parts of the trial, Stott refused to provide details to help substantiate this claim. When asked to recount only the evidence presented at trial regarding the allegedly cult-like group, Stott said there wasn’t any because it “wasn’t really relevant to who did it.”
Some queer consequences seem to flow from both the original investigation and the re-examination by Todd Bluff and Suzannah Fedorowicz.
One, Rebecca’s cause of death was internal bleeding from excessive bruising, yet the autopsy showed there were no significant cuts on her body (except for a small cut on the back of her head and scratches), no bone fractures, and only two bruises—one on her head—were described as swollen in the autopsy. The other swelling was in her genital area. Rebecca’s “labia majora at the mons pubis [was] visibly expanded by hemorrhage,” or swollen, but no other parts of her external genitals showed signs of any bruising or injury and “the hymen [appeared] to be intact.” But the tissues of the “vestibule, external to the hymen, [were] bright purple and [bruised].” Despite that, multiple doctors said the evidence of a trauma in her genitals was inconclusive.
Even Stott, in his opening statement, admitted to the jury that it was “remarkable” that Rebecca didn’t have any broken bones. Blow after blow, strike after strike, Rebecca was—in theory—struck hard enough to bruise numerous times, covering 65 percent of her body, prosecutors claimed, but not once was a blow strong enough to cause swelling, much less seriously cut her skin or fracture a bone.
Click here to read the Re-Examination Files
authored by Todd Bluff and Suzannah Fedorowicz
On the other hand, Todd and Suzannah’s re-examination has its own mystery. The follow-up investigation accuses officials and the defense attorneys of a total of 258 crimes, mostly perjury, that caused what they say are false convictions. In the investigation, as well as in interviews, Todd and Ferosa Bluff accuse Athay and Brass of neglecting the clients’ prescribed trial strategy, which they say was to argue that no crime had been committed at all (Brass argued in the opening statement that Rebecca had indeed been murdered, but said prosecutors had not proven she was murdered by Ferosa Bluff and Andrew Fedorowicz). Summed up by Andrew Fedorowicz, that strategy is “no crime, no criminals.”
But that raises the question: Why didn’t the defense present a medical expert at trial who could discuss the blood-disorder theory? Stott, not unsurprisingly, speculates the defense simply couldn’t find an expert who disagreed with the prosecutions’ experts. “Believe me, if they could, they would have,” Stott said, explaining that Brass and Athay are among the most prominent and experienced defense attorneys in the state. Athay did not return multiple calls requesting comment. Brass cited attorney-client confidentiality as his reason for not commenting for this story. (ed. note: the following sentence is an update of the original publication) During the prison interview, Ferosa Bluff was asked to write and sign a note freeing Brass from is professional duty to secrecy, but she refused without explanation.
The Bluffs blame the defense attorneys for not hiring a medical expert. Also, when asked why she and Andrew did not testify at trial, Ferosa Bluff again blames the defense attorneys, saying she thought she was going to testify. But if they were angry about their defense attorneys’ performance during trial, their actions didn’t show it. They rehired the same men to handle their appeals—and paid them additional fees to do so, Ferosa Bluff says. She can’t remember, however, any confrontation she had over the defense strategies.
The Bluffs say they were in the back seat and rehired the same attorneys out of naiveté and trust in their grand reputations. Ferosa seemed to be in the driver’s seat, however, just months earlier, when she fired her initial attorney, McCaughey, over a dispute regarding trial strategy. McCaughey wanted Andrew and Ferosa to have separate trials, but they refused and he was fired. Ferosa accuses Brass of also diverting from her trial strategy, but can’t explain why she rehired him for the appeals shortly after that disappointment. The Bluffs also blame those defense attorneys for again drifting from their belief that Rebecca simply wasn’t murdered. Without her input or authorization, Ferosa claims, Brass blamed Andrew Fedorowicz for Rebecca’s death in her appeal. She says now that she personally has always maintained that both are innocent.
In self-penned lawsuits, the Bluffs and Fedorowiczes sued the defense attorneys in federal court in 2009, but the suits were quickly dismissed.
Andrew Fedorowicz could not be interviewed because he refused to sign a Utah Department of Corrections media release form that indemnifies the department against any harm that comes to an inmate as a result of participating in a news media interview.
But Todd and Suzannah’s re-examination is successful at raising questions about the blood-disease theory by matching virtually every injury captured in photos to a noncriminal explanation. While one doctor testified at trial that he sees children diagnosed with ITP every month, none of the doctors were asked if they ever examined a patient who died from the disease, a rare but documented occurrence, or what symptoms they believe such a patient would exhibit. Moreover, it’s not clear that anyone with medical expertise has ever compared the autopsy and pictures to descriptions of ITP and weighed whether there is any reasonable chance that a blood disease could explain it all.
After their parole hearings in October, in which were told that maintaining their innocence would count against them, they both did so anyway. Andrew was issued a natural-life sentence by the Board of Pardons and Parole. Ferosa Bluff will be reconsidered for appeal no sooner than 2023.
Several naysayers of Todd and Suzannah’s investigation have dismissed it outright. Parole Board hearing officer Micklos called the reports biased. Jentzsch calls them desperate. Innocent convicts deserve a new trial, Jentzsch said, “But there’s no new evidence, that’s the problem. They’re just allegations. ... The case was solid and all the information was there.”
Todd Bluff is compelled to continue the fight for Ferosa and Andrew’s release for several reasons: His younger daughter who he had with Ferosa has not seen her biological mother since she was 2 years old, not even in prison visits, which are forbidden by the court. He says his faith in the justice system has evaporated and he wants to raise the issue of false convictions in the U.S. justice system.
Also, he feels that clues and documents he’s never seen have trickled out of the justice system slowly over the past decades. For example, testing of the sex toys for human tissues and possible DNA was barely mentioned at the trial—the only comment was Brass ambiguously stating they were “negative.” He believes that Ferosa or Andrew’s packets of information from the parole board may contain documents related to this testing that he’s never reviewed.
He hopes that one day he’ll receive a document he’s never seen before that shatters the prosecution’s theory of the case, or perhaps a chorus of experts might review the case and agree that his friends are innocent. Under Utah’s Post-Conviction Remedies Act, a convict who is factually innocent of all charges may receive a new trial at any time if new evidence is discovered.
The last reason he has for his crusade is Rebecca.
“One day, I’ll be face to face again with her; I believe that,” Todd Bluff says. “Her name was used to do this ... and I can’t abide by that.”
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