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    Saturday, November 26, 2022

    Todt verdict brings relief, celebration

    The Todt family, formerly of Colchester, is pictured in this undated family photo. Anthony Todt was convicted on April 14, 2022 of murdering his wife, Megan, and their three children, Alek, Tyler and Zoe in December 2019.

    Since Anthony Todt was convicted last week in the murders of his wife, three children and the family dog, people connected to the family in different ways have reflected on the likely conclusion to a harrowing series of events.

    The 46-year-old former Colchester physical therapist was sentenced to four life sentences for the murders of Megan, 42; Alek, 13; Tyler, 11, and Zoe, 4, as well as another year for the killing of family dog Breezy. The murders took place in December 2019 after the family moved from Connecticut to Celebration, Fla.

    Kirsten Bethmann said she and other childhood friends of Megan have been in a text thread since finding out the Todt family was missing more than two years ago. Bethmann said the friends have comforted one another.

    “There are five of us all in the same neighborhood. We grew up together for our entire childhood,” Bethmann said. “We all spent time together reuniting during the funeral and we’ve stayed in touch pretty regularly since ... maybe that’s how we have kept her alive, is by us reigniting a very close group friendship that is unique and special. Not a lot of people can say they still communicate with their childhood friend from 40 years ago.”

    She was worried when the jury said it was deadlocked but "relieved" by the eventual guilty verdict that came a few hours later.

    What angered Bethmann most is how Todt portrayed Megan as responsible for killing her children.

    “The thing I’m so mad at with him, aside from the atrocious things I believe he absolutely did, is that he made all of us question Megan’s character,” she said. “We were messaging like, 'Is there any way she really could've been involved?' It was actually my mom reminding me, 'This is not Megan. This is not Megan from childhood, this is not the Megan you knew as an adult, she wouldn’t have done this.' And we all had to keep reminding ourselves because he for a moment put doubt in us.”

    Randi Gallagher, who had worked for Todt at Family Physical Therapy in Colchester, said she watched the whole trial online.

    “I had to see it because I was so anxious about it. I’m on Facebook, and I’ve been following the Facebook groups, and it seems like 99.9% of everybody is happy with the decision,” she said. “I was relieved. I just felt like he was so ... they didn’t even want him to talk anymore. Just say that you’re guilty and get it over with. I wanted to jump through the TV — he’s such a narcissist, I just can’t stand it. That’s all he does, is ramble.”

    Gallagher still lives in Colchester and is working at a new physical therapy office. She said her job environment has vastly improved since she stopped working for Todt.

    “It’s a lot more professional and everything is kept track of, and everything’s by the book here, and obviously it wasn’t by the book there,” she said, referencing a federal health care fraud investigation into Todt’s business practices.

    Tears and a sigh relief 

    Christina Gerrity of Celebration, a neighbor of the Todts whose son Liam was friends with the Todt boys, described a difficult conversation with her son after the verdict came in.

    “When I spoke to him, I waited a little bit and had a good cry, breathed a sigh of relief that justice was served, and tucked him into bed later on that night,” Gerrity said. “He said, ‘Mommy what happened?’ I said, ‘Well he’s never ever going to see the light of day with a sense of freedom again.’ My son cried, and he says, ‘Mommy, you’re sure we’re safe now?’ And I said, ‘Yes, we’re safe.’ He said, ‘I love you mommy, and I’ve prayed for this to happen.’ I said, ‘I know baby, now it’s time to heal and say goodbye.’”

    Gerrity said what happened to her son’s friends “stole a bit of his innocence.”

    “He’s still a delightful young boy, just turned 12, but he definitely didn’t need to go through this type of trauma and this incredible, incredible stress at the hands of someone who we thought was a normal family man,” she said. “It was unnecessary for him to have to go through this, unfortunately.”

    The mood in town was celebratory, Gerrity said.

    “There was actually a lady who was driving through our town screaming, some expletives, but that justice was served, and our neighbor will never be free,” Gerrity said. “She was screaming from her car while driving through town, it was kind of unreal.”

    Scott Ward of Celebration, who knows the town well and previously had spoken on prevailing public opinion in town about the Todt case, said he expected the verdict and was supportive of it.

    “The verdict and all this stuff coming down just before Easter weekend, when all the kids are out doing stuff in the parks and Easter egg hunts, I didn’t think people would talk about it as much as they did,” Ward said. “People looked at him and watched the snippets that would come across on the news, and I think the changing his story ... and what came out during trial is different than what people’s perceptions were. A lot of people talked about his ‘performance’ on the stand, and how he carried himself in a way that he’s so self-absorbed, obsessed.”

    Ward said people in town are angry about the tabloid media’s nickname for Todt: “The fact that the press is calling him ‘Disney Dad,’ it’s really put a thorn in the paws of people down here.”

    'I was really deflated' 

    Todt's father, Robert, said he had been speaking with his son throughout the legal process, including every day since the verdict was handed down.

    "I wasn't surprised, I was really deflated," Robert Todt said.

    He is worried about his son. "He grew up a little bit differently than I grew up. In there, you just have to know how to handle yourself," he said of prison. "You don't have a choice. I just want him to be all right."

    Robert Todt also said his son plans to appeal the ruling. The death of Peter Schmer, Anthony Todt's lead defense attorney, shortly before the trial, apparently had a negative effect on him and his case.

    "All the way up until the trial, he loved these guys, especially the one who died. That had to be a devastating situation because he spoke so highly of him. He was the lead attorney," Robert Todt said. "Does he think they were competent? That's a tough one. You're sitting here saying, you lost. You don't say a team is good if they lost. ... I think he still has a lot of faith in these guys, but I know he doesn't have faith in the system at all."

    Almost 40 years before Anthony Todt was charged with killing his wife and children, his father was convicted of hiring someone to kill his wife, Loretta. Anthony Todt was just 4 years old and was at their Pennsylvania home the night his mother was shot in the face there. She survived; Robert Todt maintains his innocence.

    Alan Rubenstein, a judge in Bucks County, Pa., who as an assistant district attorney helped put Robert Todt in jail in the attempted murder case, said he noticed several distinctions between Anthony and Robert Todt while watching the former’s trial.

    “It’s a tragic case for all concerned. Nothing can justify what Anthony Todt did,” Rubenstein said. “But I think back 40 years ago to what he experienced as a toddler and thereafter. His mother almost dying, his mother losing an eye, his father going to prison for a lengthy period of time, the fact that he understood this when he got older. So it’s not surprising to me in any way that he became, for lack of a better term, unhinged.”

    Rubenstein said Todt taking the stand made some sense because he “probably had absolutely nothing to lose. There is no way any jury would acquit Anthony Todt.” The judge said he felt there was a lot of evidence against Anthony Todt, while the case against his father “was all based on circumstantial evidence,” and there was no confession to enter into evidence as there was with Anthony Todt.

    As for Robert Todt’s turn taking the stand, “He was my best witness,” Rubenstein said. “He came off as arrogant, and cold, calculating, and the longer he spoke, the more the jury disliked him, and the greater the amount of testimony, the more the jury understood that he did this and had absolutely no remorse.”

    Robert Todt spoke of a surreal feeling while watching his son on trial.

    “I can remember sitting where he was sitting and listening to people talk about this person and it’s like, 'they’re talking about me? That’s not me,'” he said. “You’re stepping out of your world and you’re stepping into something else. When they announced the verdict, you could just see his heart drop. He swears up and down that he had nothing to do with this. I have to believe my son, he’s my son.”

    Anthony Todt is talking to only one of his siblings, sister Chrissy Caplet, and otherwise doesn’t have much contact with his family, Robert Todt said.

    “He doesn’t speak with his mom or his stepdad. They kind of turned their back,” he said. “I would guess it’s more the fact that Loretta, his mother, just can’t deal with this. It’s tough to deal with it once in your life, to deal with it again with your child has got to be unbelievable.”

    Moving on in Celebration

    With the COVID-19 pandemic coming on the heels of the Todt case, Celebration has become an increasingly “transient type of town,” according to Ward. Due to this, he said, a lot of people have never even heard of Anthony Todt. And while some answers have been provided and justice has been served, Ward said the close of the trial had some residents wondering, “That’s it?”

    “I talked to a guy at the park yesterday; are you ever really going to understand it even if you’ve got all those answers?” Ward said. “You can’t get your head around it. Even if you knew every nook and cranny, it will never make sense.”

    Gallagher said she hopes Colchester can come to terms with the Todt tragedy.

    “We shouldn’t talk about him because he’s guilty, and he doesn’t need to keep being in the news,” she said. “We just need to forget about it because he’s the type of person that likes to be the star. He acts like he doesn’t, but he does. I couldn’t believe how he treated the prosecutor. He would ask her a question, and I was so glad she was coming back with, ‘I ask the questions, not you.’ I could tell he was so mad that he couldn’t control the situation.”

    Bethmann reflected on her old friend Megan. “I’m most sad that she didn’t have decades long with her children, getting to watch them go to prom or graduate from university or be there to do her daughter’s hair when she was getting married,” she said. “All of their lives were taken much too soon, and there was so much more for her children to live and share with the community that loved them. For me, that is absolutely the most devastating part of all of this.”

    Gerrity said there is some collective post-traumatic stress disorder in town from what happened. She said a new family moved into the neighborhood and, this past Halloween, set up police tape and a chalk outline of a body outside their home.

    “Everyone was like, ‘Oh no, they don't know.’ One of the neighbors reported them,” Gerrity said. “We went over and apologized and said, ‘Listen, we just need to explain to you what happened here and how upsetting this would be to children.' They apologized profusely, they’re the nicest people in the world, and they had no idea. A lot of the folks who lived on their street and around their house have since moved. There was a lot of trauma.”

    Gerrity and the family have a plaque being made for the basketball hoop that Alek and Tyler used to play with. The quote will be: “Always remember to play.” The family also is putting a little bench outside of their fence dedicated to Megan, Zoe and Breezy.

    Another family moved into the Todts' former home but is moving to California soon, she said.

    “As beautiful as Celebration is, as Disney-esque as it feels on a beautiful day like today with justice being served, it’s a place where human error and strife and pain still live,” Gerrity said. “You can’t get away from it no matter where you are. I think that we all just need to realize that we’re lucky, and we need to stay as solid as a community and as moral as we can, and look out for each other.”

    s.spinella@theday.com

    Osceola County Sheriff's Office patrol cars are posted outside a home in Celebration, Fla. on Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020. in April 2022, former Colchester physical therapist Anthony Todt was convicted of murdering his wife, three children and the family dog at their home in the affluent suburb near Walt Disney World. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel via AP)
    Photo collages on display Friday, Jan. 31, 2020, following the funeral Mass for Megan Todt and her children, Alek, Tyler and Zoe, at St. John the Evangelist Church in Montville. (Courtesy of the family)
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