Ethan Eslick murder trial begins

John Christensen
The Chronicle Express

Trial of Kelly Anderson begins in Yates County Court June 1


The murder trial of Kelly L. (Axtell) Anderson, 43, of Dundee, in the death of her 16-month-old son, Ethan Eslick, in the summer of 2002 begins Tuesday June 1. Anderson appeared in court Tuesday, May 25 for some last pre-trial motions from her attorney, Susan Betzjitomir, regarding her appearing before the jury without shackles or prison garb.

Anderson is charged with two counts of second-degree murder, a class A felony. Yates County District Attorney Todd Casella says jury selection will likely continue until Friday, and opening statements likely to be made Monday, June 7.

According to Yates County Sheriff Ron Spike, on Aug. 29, 2002, sheriff’s deputies received a report that Ethan M. Eslick, 16 months old, had been found dead by his mother, Kelly L. Axtell, then 24, at 47 Highland Drive in the village of Dundee. The only other people present in the apartment at the time were Ethan’s 3-year-old brother Jordan, who was uninjured, and Kelly’s live-in boyfriend, Ronald McGuire Sr., then age 28. Ethan’s body was sent to the Monroe County Medical Examiner for a forensic autopsy, but the official ruling on the cause of death as homicide by asphyxiation was not made until several months later in 2003.

Jordan and Ethan Eslick in 2002.

“The criminal investigation was extensive,” Spike told the Chronicle-Express in February 2019. “However, no arrests were made, and the matter turned into an open cold case.”

In late 2018, new leads were developed, said Spike, and the Sheriff’s Criminal Investigation Division enlisted the resources of the New York State Police investigators in Canandaigua and the FBI in Corning and Buffalo to further the investigation.

A new forensic examination by an FBI consultant of the photos and notes from the original report contested the original ruling, finding instead that Ethan died from blunt force trauma to the abdomen. That consultant also stated that the 3-year-old brother could not have inflicted those injuries.

A new pathologist was engaged to examine the evidence for a formal finding. That investigation led to DNA evidence and dental impressions being collected from Anderson and Ronald McGuire Sr.

Casella cites the medical examiner’s report of several injuries to Ethan’s body, including old and new bruises consistent with a pattern of chronic child abuse, bite marks, and damage to his stomach and spleen. The investigators’ reports also point out numerous inconsistencies in the stories Anderson and McGuire told police, their families, friends, and neighbors.

Casella stated that no charges were being filed against McGuire, and that the case against Andersen was based on forensic evidence and witness interviews. He said the two counts of second-degree murder are for two different theories of how Ethan was murdered, which he will present to the jury.

In her most recent motions, Betzjitomir asked the judge to limit some of Casella's statements to the jury, claiming that any request that "they be fair to both sides" would undermine the presumption of innocence guaranteed by the Constitution. Cook denied that motion, saying he would be instructing the jury himself in how to weigh the evidence presented to them.