Tuesday, December 11, 2012

1927: The Infamous Rongetti Case

The first man sentenced to die in Illinois's electric chair was not a typical death row inmate: he was a physician whose patient died from complications of an illegal abortion. Reporters covering the case in Chicago contended that Rongetti was the first doctor in the United States ever sentenced to die over a patient's abortion death.

Dr. Amante Rongetti's death sentence was handed down by a Chicago jury on March 1, 1928. He had been convicted of murder in the December 11, 1927 death of 19-year-old Loretta Enders on November 16.

Rongetti reportedly stood stunned and quiet as the sentence was read, but his wife became hysterical, pushing her way through the courtroom crowd crying, "Let me out."

Many factors disclosed in court helped to seal the jury's verdict:
  • The baby had been born alive; Rongetti left it unattended to die, then threw the body in the furnace. (Rongetti faced an additional charge of manslaughter in the death of the baby.)
  • After Loretta had developed sepsis (blood poisoning) from the abortion, Rongetti refused to provide follow-up care, including possibly life-saving additional surgery, because she had no money to pay him.
  • Not only did Rongetti refuse to provide the care himself, but he prevented Loretta from going elsewhere for fear his practice would be exposed.
  • Rongetti filed a falsified death certificate, claiming that Loretta had died of heart disease.
  • Rongetti refused to allow Loretta's mother to summon a priest to perform last rites, again fearing exposure of his illegal practices.
After the sentence was handed down, Rongetti's attorney, Scott Stewart, immediately filed motion for a new trial. Stuart's bid for a new trial was successful, and the very next year, Rongetti was at large to be implicated in the criminal abortion death of Elizabeth Palumbo, who died May 23 after an abortion performed May 10.

He was tried again for Loretta's death in December of 1929. He was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to Joliet.

Loretta's abortion was typical of illegal abortions in that it was performed by a physician.

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