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Todt attorneys move to prohibit photos of family's dead bodies

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Anthony Todt, the Colchester physical therapist charged with murdering his wife and children in Florida last year, appeared virtually in court Wednesday for a pretrial hearing. His long-awaited trial is set to begin Sept. 27.

His lawyers this week filed several new motions, asking the court to prohibit prosecutors from showing photos of the family’s dead bodies and from mentioning Todt's alleged health care fraud prior to the deaths.

Todt appeared in court via a video call on Wednesday morning and his case was continued to Sept. 20, according to the criminal clerk’s office at the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court in Osceola County, Florida. He faces four counts of first-degree murder and one count of animal cruelty in the deaths of his wife, Megan Todt, 42, their children Alek, 13, Tyler, 11, and Zoe, 4, and the family dog, Breezy.

In a series of motions filed on Monday, public defender Robert Wesley and Assistant Public Defender Peter Schmer, who are representing Todt, asked that prosecutors not be allowed to show the jury photos of Megan and the childrens’ bodies, referred to in court records as “cadavers.” They had been dead for at least two weeks when they were found wrapped in blankets in a bedroom in their home on Jan. 13, 2020, and their bodies were significantly decomposed, according to medical examiners.

The photos "are shocking and unduly prejudicial," Wesley wrote in the motion.

He said the Florida Supreme Court “has long followed the rule that photographs are admissible if they are relevant and not so shocking in nature as to defeat the value of their relevance.” He said photos of the bodies could be shown if they corroborated other evidence in the case, but they do not “corroborate Mr. Todt’s account of his alleged strangulation of the four victims” because a medical examiner was not able to determine “the exact mechanism of death” due to the bodies’ decomposition.

The medical examiner's office ruled that the family died by "homicidal violence of unspecified means." Previously released court and police records have not indicated that Todt has admitted to strangling his family, but his alleged confession to police has never been released and remained redacted from all records.

Todt’s attorneys also are asking that prosecutors not be allowed to mention that “Todt” in German translates to “death” in English. In the motion to prohibit this reference, Todt’s attorneys also criticized prosecutors' depiction of Todt in court statements, in which they allegedly called him a “boogeyman” and said he was “not a human.”

Two more motions filed by Todt’s attorneys concern the health care fraud allegations against Todt.

In February, federal prosecutors in Connecticut filed a motion to dismiss a complaint of health care fraud against Todt. U.S. Attorney John H. Durham and Assistant U.S. Attorney David J. Sheldon moved to dismiss the complaint, which alleged Todt fraudulently submitted claims to Medicaid and private insurers between January 2015 and November 2019, while the state of Florida pursues criminal charges against Todt.

The federal government moved to dismiss the complaint without prejudice "so that the criminal case in the State of Florida may proceed expeditiously and without undue concern or complications related to the federal complaint." The government still may pursue the charges at a later date, the motion said.

Schmer moved to edit Todt’s taped statements to Osceola County Sheriff’s Office detectives in order to preclude mentions of the health care fraud allegations. In addition, he moved to exclude evidence of the health care fraud allegations from the trial.

In an affidavit, the government alleges Todt committed health care fraud for years with flagrant disregard for regulations governing claims to Connecticut Medicaid and private insurance companies. The affidavit also sheds light on his private life and extensive financial troubles. Public records show that the Todts and their businesses owed almost $100,000 in unpaid loans and were being evicted from their home at the time of Tony Todt's arrest.

Schmer wrote that the defense objects “to the brief mention in the taped statements of the now dismissed federal health care fraud allegations against the defendant in Connecticut.” He called mention of the allegations by Detective Cole Miller in the taped statements “impermissible hearsay.”

His argument depends on the separate but similar motion to exclude evidence from the health care fraud investigation in the trial. The defense argued that evidence from other crimes cannot be permitted unless it proves or disproves “a material fact.” Allowing such evidence “solely to prove bad character” or to prove the accused’s propensity to commit the crime creates a “potential for unfair prejudice.”

“The fear is that a jury will convict based upon a defendant’s propensity, rather than the proof presented as to the charged offense,” Schmer wrote. “It should be noted the State has not provided any evidence to the defense of Mr. Todt’s alleged health care fraud allegations. The defense assumes the State will not present any evidence of the dismissed federal health care fraud allegations against Mr. Todt” but filed the motion “in an abundance of caution.”

In August, Todt's attorneys filed a motion asking for two of Todt’s statements to investigators to be thrown out. They are arguing that Todt was not of sound mind when tendering his confessions, and that Osceola County Sheriff's Department deputies did not properly and entirely read him his Miranda rights — a list of rights that investigators are required to read to a suspect prior to taking their statement.

On Sept. 20, Judge Keith Carsten will hear the defense attorneys' argument to throw out Todt’s confession on the day of his arrest and another statement he made to investigators a few days after his family was found dead. It was not yet known whether Todt would participate in that hearing via video call or be brought into court from the Osceola County Jail, where he has been held since January 2020.

Jury selection has not yet begun for Todt’s case. If his trial begins on Sept. 27 as scheduled, jury selection will start that day, according to the criminal court clerk’s office.

t.hartz@theday.com

s.spinella@theday.com

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