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    Wednesday, December 07, 2022

    Todt trial delayed again 2 years after arrest

    Two years to the day after he was found inside his Florida home with the remains of his dead family, Anthony Todt has yet to go to trial.

    On Wednesday, just a day shy of the two-year anniversary of his arrest, Todt attended a hearing during which his trial was delayed even further. Jury selection in his case is now set to begin on April 4.

    Todt attended the hearing via video call, as Osceola County was not transporting any inmates to the courthouse this week due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to court officials. In an electronic letter sent Jan. 8 to The Day, Todt said he was battling COVID-19 while awaiting trial at the county jail in Kissimmee, Fla.

    Todt's lead defense attorney, Peter Schmer, died in December at the age of 61, according to court records. According to Todt's letter, the attorney was in remission after battling cancer.

    Prosecutors told the court last week that due to Schmer's death, they didn't think Todt's defense team was prepared for trial and moved for yet another delay.

    Assistant State's Attorney Danielle Pinnell wrote in a Jan. 7 motion that continuing the case until March was "necessary to protect the integrity of the prosecution in this matter."

    Todt's trial, originally scheduled to begin in September 2021, had been rescheduled for Jan. 24. Judge Keith Carsten, who is presiding over the case, denied the state's motion last week and ruled that the case would move forward as scheduled. The state moved again for a delay on Wednesday, which Carsten granted.

    Pinnell wrote in her Jan. 7 motion that attorney Alesha Smith was expected to take over as Todt's lead defense attorney and that she didn't think Smith would have enough time to review all the evidence in the case — including several hours of police body camera footage and numerous depositions — by Jan. 24.

    "The state does not believe that two weeks is sufficient to adequately prepare given the volume of discovery," she said.

    Pinnell also wrote that Schmer had conducted all pretrial arguments and drafted motions and memorandums in the case, including motions that are scheduled to be heard on Jan. 21.

    Those motions include a request that prospective jurors be questioned in private about their "moral and religious attitudes toward suicide" rather than "in front of an open panel of strangers" during the selection process.

    "The defense needs to explore jurors' attitudes toward this sensitive topic," the motion reads.

    Other motions set to be heard later this month request that the court prohibit the use of the term "federal agents" if prosecutors call federal agents who were investigating Todt's alleged health care fraud to the stand; that the court perform individual and sequestered questioning during the voir dire process due to extensive media coverage of the case; and that a few trial procedures be adopted, such as not calling expert witnesses "experts" or reading the list of the state's 74 witnesses.

    Todt, formerly a physical therapist in Colchester, is charged with four counts of first-degree murder and one count of animal cruelty in the deaths of his wife, Megan, their children, Alek, Tyler and Zoe, and the family dog, Breezy, at their home in Celebration, Fla., where he was taken into custody on Jan. 13, 2020. He allegedly had been living in the home with the dead bodies of his family for weeks.

    The trial was delayed after defense attorneys filed another series of motions asking the court to prohibit a variety of evidence, including certain crime scene photos, Todt's first two statements to investigators and information about his alleged health care fraud.

    Carsten ruled to admit the crime scene photos, omit the health care fraud investigation and to limit the use of certain parts of Todt's confessions to investigators. The Osceola County Sheriff's Office has said that Todt confessed to the murders, though that confession has not been released publicly in full. Todt and his legal team have cast doubt on the veracity of the confessions, given what they say was Todt's incapacitated state when first questioned.

    Thus far, the Osceola County State Attorney's Office has released some information about the murders, including a 27-page letter from Todt to his father, Robert, and phone calls from jail between Todt and his sister, Chrissy Caplet. The sheriff's office has told The Day that it won't put out any more information about the case before the trial, as it may jeopardize a possible conviction.

    The letter from Todt to his father blamed Megan Todt for the murders — he said she gave the kids a Benadryl-laced pie before she stabbed her sons then stabbed herself. He claimed himself to be "10,000% innocent" of both the murders and health care fraud at his physical therapy practices.

    A federal affidavit released in January alleges Todt committed health care fraud for years with flagrant disregard for regulations governing claims to Connecticut Medicaid and private insurance companies. Federal agents arrived at the Todts' home in Celebration on Jan. 13, 2020, to arrest him on a warrant stemming from the fraud investigation. That's when they found the decomposing bodies of his family, wrapped in blankets in a second-floor bedroom.

    In a March 2020 phone call from jail, Todt told Caplet that he couldn't prevent his family from being murdered. "I couldn't stop it because I wasn't there," he said.

    The week before Christmas in 2019, Todt told Megan's aunt, Cindi Kopko, not to worry if she didn't hear from the family for a bit — the couple and their children were going on a trip to St. Augustine and wouldn't be reachable. Later, Todt said they had arrived in Northern Florida and Megan had lost her phone.

    "He lied," Kopko said. She doesn't know if those final texts about going on vacation came from Megan. It's possible, Kopko noted, "They were already dead by then."

    Todt has a violent family past, and his relationship with his father is complex; the two were estranged for decades. When Todt was 4 years old in 1980, he was a witness to his mother's attempted murder in Bensalem, Pa., for which his father was convicted and served years in prison.

    Robert Todt is still making amends with his son years later. In the "Looking for the Todt Family" podcast from The Day, he discusses the estrangement from his children, his reconnection to his son following Tony Todt's arrest and his feelings of guilt about how that night in 1980 — a night Robert Todt claims he was with his mistress — may have affected his son.

    The Todt family murders shook both the Colchester community, where Tony Todt was a well-respected physical therapist and beloved youth soccer coach, and the Celebration community, where Megan home-schooled her children and was known as a friendly neighbor and devoted mother.

    t.hartz@theday.com

    s.spinella@theday.com

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