Toledo Blade

Article published January 13, 2007

Jailed mom wins DNA testing request in child's death


In a rare move, investigators have cracked open - ever-so-slightly - the files in a 23-year-old Toledo murder case, even though they feel they long ago caught the killer.

Ed Skelly isn't so convinced.

"They got the wrong person," he said recently of his younger sister, who has spent more than half her life behind bars for a life sentence in the slaying of her 19-month-old daughter, Tennille.

Elizabeth Golebiewski was 23 in 1983 when a Lucas County Common Pleas Court jury convicted the North Toledo woman of using a toy gun to sexually assault her daughter and then killing her.

Denied early release from prison in the past, she now has something on her side: Ohio's more than three-year-old law that allows inmates to force DNA testing in certain old cases.

Golebiewski was the first in Lucas County to ask for her case to be reviewed to see if DNA traces might overturn her conviction.
Ed Skelly
Ed Skelly has sought court transcripts and old police reports to try to prove his sister didn't kill her daughter in 1983.

If the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation finds DNA on the toy gun and tests it, hers would be the first murder case in Lucas County to be reviewed scientifically under the new law.

Ed Simons
Ed Simons, a pen pal of Elizabeth Golebiewski, has hired an investigator in his efforts to prove she didn’t kill her child. ( THE BLADE/HERRAL LONG )
The bureau has received 17 requests for DNA testing in Lucas County "post-conviction" cases.

Only one, a rape case, has been approved for testing.

Two other requests - one in a rape case; the other a felonious assault - are pending, according to a report by the Ohio Attorney General.

Around dinnertime on May 21, 1983, young Tennille was rushed to the hospital after her father said he found her wedged between her bed and a closet door.

Investigators determined the door was placed on her to make it appear as though her death was an accident, and they arrested the girl's father.

But medical and coroner's reports estimated the child's death earlier that day, said Detective Tom Ross, the lead investigator on the case for Toledo police at the time.

The child's mother was then also arrested.

A convicted thief later testified at trial that Elizabeth Golebiewski had confessed to her during conversations in jail that she had killed the child, offering grisly details that authorities contend only investigators and the killer would have been aware of at the time.

Golebiewski was convicted on charges of felonious sexual penetration and involuntary manslaughter.

Mr. Skelly and Ed Simons, a retiree from Bethlehem, Pa., who has become a pen pal to Golebiewski, argue the case against her was largely circumstantial and hinged on testimony from a woman with a long rap sheet and no credibility.

The two men have requested court transcripts, old police reports, and file notes in the case.

Several years ago, Mr. Simons enlisted the help of private investigator Martin Yant, whose work has overturned several convictions.

A recent study, Mr. Yant said, shows that wrongful convictions often hinge on testimony from "jail snitches."

"It just goes to show you that people will give false testimony, even if somebody's life is on the line," he said.

Mr. Yant and others acknowledged that Golebiewski's request for the DNA review is a long shot. It's not clear the old evidence even contains human tissue. More troublesome, even if DNA suggests someone else assaulted the child, it wouldn't rule out the mother's involvement.

"Frankly, I don't know how it would exonerate the defendant. [But] once she raised the issue, our office is going to do the right thing," said Jim Vail, an assistant Lucas County prosecutor.

Nevertheless, DNA tissue from someone other than the mother or child might just be enough to prompt a judge to review the 1983 conviction.

Mr. Simons, having traveled by train to get to Toledo, attended a hearing in the case Thursday in front of Judge Charles Doneghy of Lucas County Common Pleas Court.

Mr. Simons was jubilant to learn that prosecutors have requested that the evidence be tested.

"It has been a productive day," he said.

For as convinced as Mr. Simons is of Golebiewski's innocence, however, Mr. Ross is equally unwavering in his belief that the North Toledo woman killed her child.

Now an investigator for the Lucas County prosecutor's office, Mr. Ross assisted the prosecutor in reviewing the case and suggested that several pieces of evidence, including the toy gun and two swabs from the child, be tested.

He said he's far from concerned about any review of the case.

"I think it will fortify what I already believe," he said.

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