Stories written by Jo Ciavaglia, award-winning multimedia newspaper reporter at the Bucks County Courier Times in Bucks County, a suburb of Philadelphia, Pa.
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Monday, August 11, 2014
Judge in Bensalem suicide-pact homicide case: Where is the malice?
Posted: Friday, August 8, 2014 '
Where is the malice?
That is the question Bucks County Judge Albert Cepparulo wanted answered Friday during a hearing involving a 30-year-old Bensalem man charged with killing his mother in what was believed to have been a suicide pact.
“You have got to be kidding, if that is your evidence of malice for homicide,” Cepparulo said in response to prosecutor Alan J. Garabedian’s assertion that even if Karen Yiambilis wanted to die, it doesn’t mean her death isn’t a homicide.
The 59-year-old Yiambilis died of carbon monoxide poisoning April 7, and police charged her son, Koustantinos “Gus” Yiambilis, in her death.
The hearing was held at the request of his attorneys, who asked the court to dismiss the charges of homicide and causing a catastrophe against their client. The defense argued that the Bucks County District Attorney’s Office has failed to show evidence supporting either charge.
The defense contends that Karen and Gus Yiambilis both intended to commit suicide, but Gus survived.
Cepparulo, who is overseeing the case, is expected to issue a written decision on the dismissal requests within 60 days. Yiambilis family members at the hearing declined comment.
The open homicide charge means Gus Yiambilis is ineligible for bail and must remain incarcerated in Bucks County prison. He is also charged with a felony aiding in suicide, risking a catastrophe and misdemeanor reckless endangerment.
At the hearing Friday, Yiambilis’ attorney, William Goldman Jr., read from seven handwritten suicide notes left in the bedroom where authorities say Karen Yiambilis was found along with a borrowed gas generator.
Four of the notes were written by Karen Yiambilis to family members. Gus wrote the others.
In court, Yiambilis and his sister Eleni each cried as portions of the letters were read.
Suicide letters from Gus and Karen Yiambilis
Goldman has argued that the notes, along with testimony from a neighbor who claims it was Karen Yiambilis — not Gus, as police allege — who asked to borrow her gas generator the day of her death, show his client was not actively involved in the planning or execution of the suicide pact nor did he intend his mother to die and he survive.
“Karen Yiambilis expressed her intent by her own hand,” Goldman added. “There was no deception, no fraud, no duress.”
Goldman said the only reason Gus lived is because police were called to the one bedroom apartment, and pounded on the door for 10 minutes before Yiambilis answered it. Police said Yiambilis appeared lethargic and confused when he opened the door. Police noticed a haze in the apartment and smelled exhaust fumes.
Goldman also presented new evidence that he said shows his client played no role in his mother’s death. A recent fingerprint analysis shows that none of the 41 prints lifted from packing tape used to seal vents, doors and windows in the bedroom match Gus Yiambilis’, he said.
“Two people lived in that apartment, and that leaves one person: Karen Yiambilis,” Goldman added.
But there are no fingerprints of Karen Yiambilis to compare because her fingerprints weren’t taken when her body was released and then was later cremated, he said.
Goldman also tried to cast doubt on what prosecutors have cited as a key piece of evidence supporting the homicide charge — a statement Gus made while at the hospital for treatment of carbon monoxide poisoning. He allegedly said, “I can’t believe I killed my mother. She’s the only thing I got.”
Goldman suggested the statement was taken out of context.
“If someone were to say, ‘I’m Hulk Hogan’... it doesn’t make it true,” he said.
But prosecutor Garabedian countered that the homicide charge is appropriate because Karen Yiambilis died as a result of a gas generator that her son ran and even refilled once after it ran out of gas.
When Judge Cepparulo asked if charging him with both homicide and aiding in suicide is contradictory, the prosecutor responded that a judge or jury could see the death as a suicide, too, so it’s appropriate to charge it as well.
“That is just wrong,” Cepparulo said. “You cannot have homicide and assisted suicide. Those two don’t fly.”
Then Cepparulo asked Garabedian what evidence showed that Yiambilis’ actions were malicious, a requirement for a homicide charge.
“From every note I read, it was clear they wanted to commit suicide,” the judge said. “Is there any evidence ... that Mr. Yiambilis took certain steps to avoid dying by carbon monoxide? Did he try to make sure that he would live and his mother would die? Is there any evidence?”
Garabedian’s answer: Yiambilis survived.
“When officers knocked on the door, he answered (it), he left the (bed)room,” he added. “By answering the door he took himself out of the zone of danger.”
Goldman also argued that Yiambilis didn’t intend to cause widespread injury, damage or destruction and none happened. He added that steps were taken to reduce the gas exposure to others.
Garabedian countered that Yiambilis put a large number of people in danger. He cited CO readings in two neighboring apartments reached potentially hazardous levels and the evacuation of four apartments for two hours while fumes dissipated.
“How many people need to die before we call this a catastrophe, judge?” Garabedian added.