As part of Cleveland Magazine's 30th anniversary celebration, the editors have chosen 52 of their favorite stories from the magazine's archives, and wish to share them with you. A new story will appear every week at Clevelandmagazine.com. It might be controversial, comical, nostalgic or nonplussing. But it will be Cleveland.
From Cleveland Magazine, July 1998
Editor's note: Audrey Iacona was released from prison
2001, after spending two years at the Medina County Jail. She is on
for five years and must do 250 hours of community service.
Audrey Iacona gave birth to a baby in the basement of her family home in Granger Township on the first of May, 1997. The baby is dead. In February of this year, Audrey Iacona, then 17, was tried as an adult, convicted of causing the death of her baby and abusing its dead body by concealing it in a reprehensible manner. These are facts. Everything else is a matter of profound speculation.
LYNN SCHERMA (Audrey's former friend and a prosecution witness): What happened on May the first. That's what it all comes down to. What happened on May the first. Opinions don't count. My opinion doesn't count. It's all what happened on May the first.
It is possible that the baby was born alive, and his mother ended his life. It's possible, but it now appears that it did not happen as claimed and as widely reported. A living baby was not placed in "plastic bags" and abandoned in a basement utility room to die of suffocation and neglect. In spite of the charges, witnesses, reports and arguments that led a fair-minded jury to believe that sequence of events, the story may be demonstrably wrong. Another story was made known to investigators, prosecutors and attorneys for both sides long before the trial. That story was never told, its merits never submitted to the jury. The rules of the American legal road rendered its telling a moot point.
The unseen evidence and unheard testimony lead elsewhere. Either it was worse: not manslaughter, but the most cold-blooded of crimes infanticide the murder of a newborn at the hands of the mother, or there was no crime at all. There is no middle ground.
There is only one person on earth who knows what happened with absolute certainty, and she has never spoken of the events of that day or any of the events of her life that led her to the wretched destiny of the first of May, 1997. Not to police, after the first frenzied moments when she was suddenly confronted in her own home by a platoon of uniformed officers and detectives. Not to investigators or prosecutors. Not to reporters who posed the questions that were never answered. She did not go before the grand jury, did not testify at the Juvenile Court hearing that surrendered her to the adult system, did not take the stand at her own trial.
Audrey Iacona was cautioned of her rights and counseled to stay silent. And so she remained, through investigation, arrest, trial, conviction and incarceration.
Audrey Iacona has been mute long enough, maybe too long, and Audrey has a story to tell. But to fully comprehend what she has to say, you must hear of her brothers first, for Adam and Dominic Iacona are the lions at the gates of Audrey.
Adam, 22, and Dominic, 19, were born when the family still lived in the tiny house in Newburgh Heights that has been part of a small, ethnic enclave for generations. Their grandparents still live there. Assorted aunts and uncles live nearby. First, second and third cousins still roam the Newburgh streets. Adam was 4 and Dominic 2 when they moved to the "dream house."
How did this young urban family move up to what has been described as a "sprawling, nine-acre estate in Medina County"? They did it the old-fashioned way. They earned it. Mark Iacona worked two, sometimes three jobs at the railroad, at the racetrack and selling X-ray equipment. His wife, Angela, worked 40, 50 and 60 hours a week as a nurse. They lived with his parents, saved for years and finally found a bargain on some idle farmland in Granger Township, the sleepy east end of Medina County. Scrimping for years more, they banked enough to build a home, working days and nights to cover loans. It was the mid-'80s before Iacona started his own real estate firm and afforded the family some breathing room, the mid-'90s before they owned their own downtown Cleveland restaurant, securing the entitlements of a family business and the 100-hour workweeks that go with it. This is the privileged, "upper-middle-class Iacona family" of media fame.
The Iacona sons look more than a little like their father, Mark, a big, barrel-chested man with Popeye arms and a longshoreman's back, their physiques further enhanced by a new generation of high-potency vitamins and Nautilus equipment. They spent their youths working as ranch hands at the Iaconas' personal Ponderosa, with leisure time dedicated to sports. They grew up strong, both built like Power Rangers, all shoulders, neck and sinew.
Both attended Holy Name High School, the respected West Side Catholic school, like generations of the family before them. Both were sports standouts. Neither one had ever had a serious run-in with the law until the summer of 1996, when Adam was involved in a brawl that erupted at a nightspot in the Flats. Although there were no life-threatening injuries and many complicating circumstances, it became a serious matter when police arrived and discovered that among the injured was one of their own, an off-duty Cleveland patrolman. Adam was bound over for trial on felony assault charges. The trial was scheduled for May 1997. The impending court case cast a pall over the tight-knit Iacona family, dominating their lives through the ensuing winter and spring. Adam was convicted and sentenced to a year in prison.
Less than a year later, in the midst of Audrey Iacona's trial, charges were filed against Dominic Iacona, not for any actions but for words criminal menacing. He had allegedly verbally threatened Bryan Clink, a former friend and by then the publicly identified father of Baby Boy Iacona. Dominic now faces up to six months in prison at a trial scheduled for August.
For the family, these situations were like recurring bad dreams, surreal disruptions of the good life they had struggled so hard to achieve. But they were nothing compared to the nightmare of the Fall of Audrey.
Audrey Iacona. Little Audrey. The baby of the family. Until last
only as a good daughter, good sister, good student, good friend. Now,
famous and controversial criminal defendant this area has known in a
In real life, she is not the severe-looking Hester Prynne always shot in hard right profile from the camera bays at stage right of the Medina courtroom. Audrey Iacona is blessed and cursed with that rare and ineffable human attribute uncommon beauty. Wearing no makeup and simple clothes, Audrey Iacona is not just another pretty girl, but strikingly attractive. "Attractive" is the governing word.
DEBORAH IACONA (Audrey's aunt): She's always had that attractive, sensuous look, from the time she was a baby. Everyone knew it. Everyone said, "She's so beautiful." From day one.
Older boys and even men, older men who should know better but often don't, have pursued her since she was barely a teen. By the time she was in high school, with a steady stream of male teen-age traffic through the house as the Iacona homestead became the favorite haunt of Adam and Dominic's friends, there was no shortage of would-be suitors for Audrey. At the restaurant, men in their 30s, 40s and 50s approached her regularly. The brothers were always there to close ranks.
DEBORAH IACONA: Her brothers always felt the need to guard her ... to the extreme. There was always this fiercely protective aura. They did it out of love, but it was a problem sometimes.
ANGELA IACONA: My boys have always had this rule in their heads that their friends can come over to the house and hang around all the time but none of them are supposed to look twice at the "little sister." Well they don't that's just not how things work.
By all accounts, Audrey herself seemed unaware of anything special about her appearance or any other aspect of her life until that afternoon in May. Others have observed, judged and commented, but only Audrey knows.
AUDREY IACONA: They say I'm this promiscuous, spoiled little brat. Maybe they're right, but I don't think that's really me. I don't think my life was so different. My mom and I, we had all these talks about saving yourself for somebody special and not making yourself available, you know, not to dress a certain way or act a certain way, and I learned that and that's what I did, but there's a lot of, you know, peer pressure.
I was 15 and I started dating. Kind of. Not really dating, but, you know, my girlfriends and I would hang out with some guys at football games and school stuff and that kind of thing. After a while, you start pairing off.
Older guys asked me out a lot. Juniors and seniors. I don't know why, maybe because they knew my brothers and they'd see me around. I went to four proms my freshman year Ignatius, Highland, Valley Forge and Holy Name. It was fun, and it was kind of an honor.
The first young man she dated more than a few times was Dominic's friend, Gary Godemski.
AUDREY IACONA: He was a couple years older, but he liked me, he was nice to me, and I liked him. We started seeing each other. He was 17, I was 15. That's not so crazy, is it?
I had a curfew, and if I was even close to being late, I had to call. And my Mom gave me a beeper. Every weekend, if I was out, she would call four or five times where are you? Who are you with? When will you be home?
My parents did a lot for us, they gave us a great life, but we were never like little rich kids. We had rules and we knew what was right and wrong. We had to be respectful. And we worked, you know, cleaned up and helped out I can drive a tractor, you know. I've been working since I was little. I had a job at the restaurant since I was 15.
Audrey and Gary dated for months, in spite of some harsh words from Adam and Dominic, who felt that Gary had violated their ironclad "Hands Off Audrey" policy.
AUDREY IACONA: The first time around was a terrible mistake. It was stupid. I we it didn't happen because we were so in love or anything, it was just physical. He wanted to, but it wasn't just him. I wanted to, too. So it happened. And I got pregnant. I knew. I had been told a hundred times, a thousand times.
When I missed my period, I told my Aunt Deb, who's a nurse like my mom. She got a pregnancy test and ... I didn't want an abortion. My mom didn't want an abortion. Neither did Auntie Deb. But ... but ... I don't know. It was my fault. I was so stupid.
DEBORAH IACONA: She was looking for the best way to tell her mother I'm her mom's closest friend and the first thing I said was, "We've got to tell your Mom right away," and she said, "I know." We talked about it for a few days, the three of us, and she was so sick just so sick. Throwing up. Passing out. The worst I've ever seen someone with morning sickness. We said, "This is crazy." I'm a nurse. I hate abortions. But it was the right decision.
AUDREY IACONA: We still dated after that, but we broke up when I was a sophomore. I didn't date anybody for a while. Then I started dating Bryan. I think it was May or June. I don't know how to say this, but I really didn't even want to that much. But he kept coming on to me and he was known to be "bad," or whatever you want to call a reputation for being a tough guy. I was in a rebellious stage, I guess. No, not against my parents, it was more against my brothers. I like it, I like how they look out for me and everything, but sometimes it's too much.
I was never in love with Bryan. He started telling me he loved me after a few dates. I thought it was kind of weird. He didn't know me, how could he love me? But he'd get mad if I didn't say it back. It got to a point where, if any other guy looked at me, oh-oh, trouble. He hit a guy in the face once, just for driving my girlfriend and me home from a party. Another time oh, it doesn't matter. It just got to be ridiculous. He'd scream and yell; he never hit me, but it was so intimidating. I couldn't even go out with my friends. Wherever we'd go, he would show up. I started dating him to be independent, you know, to be strong, but I felt so weak.
Whenever we we used protection. We did. Except once no, twice, twice we didn't. He said it would be OK. "I'm not stupid, I would never get you pregnant." I don't know what I was thinking. Nothing.
I finally snapped out of whatever zone I was in and I broke up with him. I finally unloaded on him on the phone. I was always afraid of his temper, and then I just didn't care anymore. I told him he had problems. I just wasn't going to do it anymore.
DEBI CLINK (Bryan's mother): Bryan's not talking to anyone about this anymore. He just wants to move forward with his life.
Yes, he was impressed with her and the family, the house. I never met her, but he would say, "She's so beautiful." And she was, she is beautiful.
As far as Bryan being "bad," he's never been that way around me. Of all my sons, he's the most sensitive. I have three boys. They can all take care of themselves. People don't want to mess with them, they know they're not going to take it. Bryan's had his share of rows, definitely, but that's really neither here nor there as far as this situation goes.
It was likely that Clink's name would never be heard in the Iacona house again. He too had become persona non grata with the brothers when he started dating Audrey. Clink may have been gone, but he could not be forgotten. Not quite yet.
AUDREY IACONA: A few weeks later this would have been October I missed my period. I couldn't believe it. What was I supposed to do now? I wasn't going to run to my Mom. I felt so bad for her. She had done everything right and I screwed up ... again. I called Bryan. He said, "Why don't you buy one of those pregnancy tests?" That's all. He never called back. I never talked to him again. Never.
DEBI CLINK: He remembered exactly what happened and he testified to it. She called him on a Monday. He said, "Come on, over, we'll go get a pregnancy test." He didn't walk away from anything. He never knew she was pregnant. She didn't tell him, none of her friends told him. He didn't know anything until after it happened.
This did not have to end up like this and I know they [the Iaconas] feel the same way. If she didn't do it, she didn't do it, but it doesn't make a damn bit of difference now. The baby is dead. We saw that baby. It was hard on Bryan. Even 10 months after, this was a baby, a beautiful, tiny baby. Don't say "remains." This was not anything but a baby. And if Bryan had known, he would have done the right thing and we would have done the right thing, and we would be there for that baby.
This whole thing, I can't stress this enough, is in God's hands. If Audrey didn't do it, God will show it. If she did, God will show it. I go to church and I pray to the Holy Spirit and God and the Blessed Mother. ... We've been going through this for a year. We just want it behind us.
AUDREY IACONA: I only told three people, my friends. They said I had to get an abortion, but I just couldn't even think about it. I was still hoping maybe I wasn't. I remembered the first time, I was so sick, every day, right from the beginning. I had to get up at five every morning and throw up for an hour and then get myself back together so I could go to school. This time, I was never sick once. That made me think, well, maybe not.
Then, in November, I had some bleeding. It was such a relief. I told my friends not to worry, it was OK. I wasn't completely sure because it wasn't like a real period, but close. I don't know, maybe I made myself believe it. But it happened again, and again after that, so I thought everything was OK.
In February, I started dating Gary again. You know, people say I'm so wild, but I only really dated two guys seriously, Gary and Bryan. So, Gary and I got back together. Then, in March, it all started again. I missed my period. Nothing. I started thinking, Yeah, I might be pregnant, but it didn't make any sense. It couldn't have been Gary, and if it was all the way back but I hadn't gained any weight, I was never sick. And it couldn't have come at a worse time. Everyone was getting ready for Adam's trial in May, and it was bad, you know, because it was so unfair, and we were all so worried, especially my mom.
Everything went through my head. But I knew, I knew I had to do something. I told my Aunt Deb. She said the right things, you know you've got to see a doctor and we'll do what's right and it'll be OK, but she said we should wait until after my Mom's birthday in April to tell her. It's too much right now.
DEBORAH IACONA: It was sometime in March, and she came to me and said, "Auntie Deb, I think I might be pregnant." In the meantime, my nephew's [Adam] thing was going on.
I went over the symptoms with her, and she said, "No ... no ... no." I said we should get her a doctor's appointment and get a blood test, but I told her, "Let's wait a little." Angie wasn't doing well with the Adam thing, and I felt there was no good in telling her if it wasn't for sure.
A week after her mother's birthday, I called Audrey and said, "OK, honey, let's get that test." She said, "But I got my period." That was a good sign, but I said, "Look, this isn't normal. We've got to get this checked out. It could be something else."
AUDREY IACONA: This is mid-April now I started bleeding again. A lot. One of my friends said, "Either you're miscarrying or you're not pregnant to begin with," and I wanted to believe that, but I talked with Aunt Deb and she said, "Something is wrong here, even if you're not pregnant." She was right, I know. We agreed to talk at the end of the month and get a doctor's appointment. Then it was the first of May. The first of May.
DEBORAH IACONA: She was convinced I was convinced she wasn't pregnant. My concern was that she was having a miscarriage, so I ran down the list Excessive bleeding? Abdominal pain? Nausea? All the symptoms I could think of. Nothing.
I still wanted her to see a doctor and I had a good ob-gyn in mind, and we agreed that, at the end of the month, we would set that up and I'd go with her. And then well, you know.
I'm telling you, I roll in bed thinking, how could I not have seen, how could I have missed it? But I was at a Holy Name fund-raiser in April, a fashion show, and she was in it and she wore a dress and a little pair of shorts you couldn't no one could tell.
I'll tell you exactly what would have happened if I had gotten her to the doctor's earlier and found out she was five months pregnant. Audrey would have had a baby and there would have been two doting grandparents loving that little baby and welcoming that baby, and the only fight would have been over who gets to hold him. All this talk about, "She couldn't tell her parents because she was afraid." She already knew her parents were completely supportive in a dilemma exactly like this. She knew that, and she knew they had unconditional love for her.
Deborah Iacona was never called to testify at the trial. Right and wrong may be simple, but the law is complicated. The conversations between Audrey and her aunt were confidential, witnessed by no one else. Prosecutors were aware of Deborah Iacona's statements and ready to pounce if she took the stand. Objection. Hearsay. Inadmissible. Others could testify, and did at length, about private conversations that cast Audrey in a harsh red light, but similar testimony that helped her case was disallowed by the rules of hearsay. (The law says that hearsay is admissible only if it's contrary to self-interest.) That allowed prosecutors to plant an unrefuted seed of motive for the jury: Audrey Iacona dared not tell her parents. She was afraid, afraid of their reaction, afraid of what they might do.
AUDREY IACONA: That's so wrong. My family would have been totally supportive. It never crossed my mind that they would reject me because I was pregnant or disown me and my baby if I had one. We all love each other too much.
Six months had now passed since Audrey had the first inkling she could be pregnant. Adam Iacona was a few weeks away from the trial that had consumed the family. The calendar turned to May. May 1, 1997.
AUDREY IACONA: I started getting stomach pains the night before. I've had stomach problems all my life, you know, lactose intolerance, and it comes and goes. I've had the same doctor for it since I was little. That's what I thought it was. I got up a few times during the night. Took some medicine. I still felt awful in the morning, so I didn't go to school, just stayed in bed. Then I felt a little better in the afternoon, so I got up. I thought I better have something to eat. There's a freezer in the basement, so I went downstairs. Adam and his friend Dennis were at the kitchen table. I asked them if they wanted a frozen pizza, but Adam said no, he was making some eggs. I went down the stairs, and that's when it hit me. Pain like I've never felt before.
It happened so fast. It wasn't hours, it was 15 or 20 minutes, I'm pretty sure. I don't remember much about the pain after that first one. I tried to sit on the couch, you know, catch my breath, but I couldn't I there's like this weight bench down there and I ended up there, kind of half-sitting, but more on one knee, and then I felt it, the baby's head, I could feel it. Then I knew.
I waited. I didn't know what I was supposed to do. And he never made a sound. I was bleeding, I guess, but I didn't I was looking at the baby and I thought, what am I supposed to do? I swabbed his nose and his mouth, there was something in his mouth like gray stuff, so I scooped it out with my fingers, the way I saw it on Doogie Howser. He was in an elevator or something on one show and some lady had a baby, and I remembered how he did it. I didn't know ...
Then I saw the cord, the umbilical cord. I knew you had to cut it, and I started looking around, and there were scissors right there, up against the divider where my Mom had all her wrapping stuff. It was my cousins' birthday, both of them, Allison and Natalie, and she must have been wrapping presents and there was paper and ribbon and scissors right there. So I took the scissors and I cut it. I had no clue about tying the cord. I didn't know and I didn't want to do it wrong and it seemed OK because there was nothing coming out of it.
He didn't breathe, he didn't move. Didn't make a sound. I knew he wasn't alive.
There's all kinds of towels and blankets in the basement people are always staying over and that's where they sleep so I got a towel, a blue one, and laid him down on his back. He looked uncomfortable. I turned him on his side I remember thinking that I like to sleep on my side. But it didn't everything was wrong. His color was kind of purplish-black and his face was sad almost.
I want to say that I loved him so much, because that was my baby, but it wasn't like that. My mind was shot. I was numb. And I never really thought I was pregnant, so I didn't have a chance to expect the baby, you know, like expectant mothers do, so I didn't connect like I I was just numb.
Here I was, having a baby, my parents are upstairs, they're going to come down here and find me like this with a dead baby and they don't even know I'm pregnant. This is no way for them to find me, no way to find out I was pregnant, no way for a baby to die, no way to do anything.
I didn't know what to say, to call up there, to do I just didn't know. I sat there for 10 minutes, staring at the wall. The baby and me. I can't tell you what I was thinking. I was out of it.
I finally got up. I had to do something. I wrapped the towel around him like a baby blanket. I wanted it was all I could do. Then I finally got up and wrapped another towel around myself and went upstairs. I went right past Adam and Dennis and upstairs to the bathroom. If they said anything, I didn't hear it. Then the phone rang as I got upstairs and I answered it. I know it doesn't make any sense, I just picked it up. It was Lynn. She asked me why I wasn't in school and I just blurted it out I just had a baby. She said, "Ohmigod! And you're home already?" She thought I must have been in the hospital. I said, "No, I had a baby in the basement. A boy." I told her just like that the baby was dead. The baby was born dead. And I said, "What should I do now?" She didn't say anything, so I hung up.
The most damning phrase at the trial, repeated over and over by prosecutors and quoted over and over in the media, was supposedly uttered in this same conversation.
AUDREY IACONA: That thing about "going bikini shopping"? You know, people can say whatever they want to about me, but if there's one thing I hardly talked to her. I could hardly talk. The baby was dead. I was covered in blood. It was the worst moment of my life. And, I don't know, it had to be three or four months later, they say that this friend of mine, Lynn, said that I told her, "Now we can go shopping for bikinis" or something like that. That's so people believe somebody could do that? Who could do that?
It never happened and I don't believe Lynn ever what she did, what they got her to say I know, I understand what they were trying to do, but the way things were handled, that isn't the way things should be.
LYNN SCHERMA: Nobody ever pressured me to say anything. When people ask me that question all I can say is, anything I said was the truth. I wouldn't even bother saying, "Yes you did, yes you did!" What is said is said, and it's done.
If she was dazed or being one way or another, I couldn't tell. I don't know about that.
Audrey was always a good person, and she is a good person. If Audrey would have testified, I think that would have helped her a lot, even if she would say things against what I said because people would have looked at it differently.
Regardless, that one brief phone call was the lever that shifted mighty wheels into motion. Lynn Scherma, bewildered and fraught with anxiety, called her father's number and frantically recounted the conversation with Audrey. Bob Scherma, a part-time Parma policeman himself, wasted no time in dialing 911: A girl gave birth in the basement of her home on State Road. The baby's dead. Send someone over there. Send an ambulance.
Granger Township is just beyond the county line from Hinckley, but Hinckley patrolman Patrick Domos was the closest officer to hear the 3:23 p.m. dispatch. He promptly headed across the border. Moments later, several Medina County sheriff's deputies raced for the same address. For unknown reasons, the ambulance request was canceled and only law-enforcement personnel responded to the call.
Audrey Iacona locked herself in the upstairs bathroom and turned on the shower, but her ordeal wasn't over. As she stepped into the tub, the placenta began to discharge.
AUDREY IACONA: I just didn't think about that. I didn't know. It just came out of me. I put it in the toilet. Then I took a shower and put on some clothes, sweatpants and a sweatshirt. I knew I had to go back down there.
I went back down to the basement, and I thought, Now what? I've got to do something, but what? Then my dad came down.
MARK IACONA: I was in the family room. I had been on the phone for maybe 20 minutes. To this day, I don't remember who I was talking to.
Adam and Dennis were on their way out someplace and Adam said something about "Audrey doesn't look so good." I was still on the phone, but I nodded. I heard him, but I wasn't too worried. She had this stomach thing all the time. I saw her go past in the kitchen, then down the steps.
As soon as I hung up, I went down to check on Audrey. She was by the bench in the weight room, kind of kneeling there. I said, "What's the matter, Audrey?" She didn't say anything, she just looked down.
I went over to her and I looked and God, I know it's strange, but I looked right at the baby and I didn't know, I didn't see him. I