Friday, December 11, 2015

The Abortion Death That Led to a Death Sentence for Amante Rongetti

A balding, middle-aged white man with a mustache, clad in a suit and tie, sitting on a chair in front of a paneled wall
Dr. Amante Rongetti
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 Dr. Amante Rongetti was the first doctor in the United States ever sentenced to die over a patient's abortion death.

Rongetti had been convicted of murder in the December 11, 1927 abortion death of 19-year-old Loretta J. Enders and manslaughter in the death of her baby. Many factors disclosed in court helped to seal the jury's verdict:

  • Witnesses said that the baby had been born alive; Rongetti left it unattended to die, then threw the body in the furnace. Rongetti's nurse, Hazel Reed, reportedly fainted on the witness stand during Rongetti's trial after relating the deaths of Loretta and 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 summon a priest to perform last rites for Loretta, again fearing exposure of his illegal practices.

News clipping head shot of youngish white woman wearing a tall cloche hat
Nurse Reed
Rongetti's defense claimed that Loretta came to him at his Ashland Boulevard Hospital after having undergone an illegal abortion elsewhere -- a claim that fell flat, considering the lack of proper aftercare.

The baby's father, William Cozzi, said that he'd taken Loretta to a midwife for an abortion a week before taking her to Rongetti for a second abortion after the first attempt had evidently failed. 

Lorraine Irwin, one of Rongetti's former nurses, testified that Rongetti had relayed this to her the day after he'd admitted Loretta to his hospital for the abortion. Irwin admitted that she had taken Loretta to Rongetti in his operating room, but muttered that "he didn't do anything." She said that she was later called into Loretta's room where she found the dead baby lying near its mother. She admitted that she had burned the baby's body.
Witnesses in the case said that they received threats to try to intimidate them. Two of Rongettis' nurses indicated that they feared for their lives if they testified.

Rongetti's death sentence was handed down by a Chicago jury of 11 married men and one widower on March 1, 1928, after three hours of deliberation. Rongetti's scheduled execution date was to be April 13, 1928. 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."

After the sentence was handed down, Rongetti's attorney, Scott Stewart, immediately filed motion for a new trial. The legal wrangling took a while. Rongetti spent a year on death row before being released -- whereupon he was promptly implicated in the criminal abortion death of Elizabeth Palumbo, who died May 23, 1929 after an abortion performed May 10.

He was tried again for Loretta's death in December of 1929. Rongetti found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to 14 years in Joliet.

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

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