On January 9, 2009, 20 year old Amanda Wienckowski’s body was discovered naked, frozen, and upside down stuffed in a garbage tote across the street from the residence of Antoine J. Garner, where she had gone to provide sexual services. Though not charged in her death, the 300-or-more pound Garner has been identified as the last person to see her alive and as a person of interest in her death. Her family reported her missing five weeks prior to the discovery of her body.
Erie County Medical Examiner’s determination that Wienckowski died of a drug overdose. But retired Buffalo Homicide Detective Mark J. Lauber said, ” They (police)believed the most likely scenario was that a large person accidentally choked the petite, 20-year-old Kenmore woman during a paid encounter. ” The police have realized from the get go that, “ the cause of death was not from a lethal amount of opiates for someone who used heroin every day.”
Since, then, the Wienckowski’s family sought the assistance of attorney Steven M. Cohen of the Amherst law firm Hogan Willig and had a second autopsy done by a West Coast pathologist who concluded that Wienckowski’s cause of death was strangulation. A finding that Albany-area pathologist Michael Sikirica determined that the amount of opiates in Wienckowski’s system was “a relatively innocuous level.”
“The Buffalo police have always maintained this was a homicide,” Cohen said. “Whether it’s murder or manslaughter is a question for a jury to decide, but the medical examiner’s findings prevent District Attorney Frank Sedita from prosecuting the case because the listed cause of death creates reasonable doubt.”
Lauber, in challenging the medical examiner’s determination, said he and other detectives assigned to the case were told by a county toxicologist that the accidental overdose was selected as the cause of Wienckowski’s death because they could not find any other explanation. The “logical” way to handle the cause of death, Lauber said, would be to list it as “undetermined.” The former detective pointed out that yet another pathologist, Scott F. LaPoint, hired by Sedita last year, issued an opinion that the cause of death should be undetermined.
Because of conflicting reports, Sedita sought outside expert opinion.
What has been puzzling to detectives is the following:
-When the Homicide Squad requested a copy of the county autopsy report in 2009, he was told a written request would have to be submitted. That was a first, he said.
-Also a first was that when the county report arrived, it was signed by four pathologists in the Medical Examiner’s Office. In the past, the only pathologist to sign an autopsy report was the pathologist who conducted the autopsy, said Lauber, who worked 11 years as a homicide detective and frequently attended autopsies.
-He also noted that it was odd for four pathologists to sign an autopsy report. But a county spokesman for the medical examiner disagreed, saying many autopsy reports are signed by more than one pathologist.
Lauber said he and the other detectives believe that Wienckowski died during rough sex and dismisses the strangulation ruling. Pressure marks found on Wienckowski’s neck and internal neck injuries, he said, could have occurred when her body was shoved down into the garbage tote.
As for what appear to be defensive wounds on her arm, he said, those also could have occurred when her body was being discarded.
Marks on Wienckowski’s face by her jawline, he said, were caused by a large earring she was wearing that ended up pressed against her flesh.
Lauber interviewed Garner for two hours, just hours after Wienckowski’s body was found in a garbage tote across the street from his home on Jan. 9, 2009, outside a church at Spring and Clinton streets. The garbage tote previously had been reported stolen by one of Garner’s neighbors.
Garner told detectives that Wienckowski arrived at his house Dec. 5, 2008, after he had called her for paid sex in response to an advertisement, Lauber said. That part of the story detectives do not dispute.
The detectives have differed on whether this case should be tried as manslaughter or murder. They believe that Garner (due to his weight) or what they term as “positional asphyxiation” during sex killed her.
What they say is this in reference to Garner, “We don’t believe this was a classic depraved indifference to life, which is the definition of second-degree murder,” Lauber said. He said a lesser charge of criminally negligent homicide or second-degree manslaughter might be more appropriate.”
HOWEVER, Garner last week was convicted in Erie County Court of choking and assaulting a prostitute during a paid sexual encounter. He faces up to seven years in prison when he is sentenced in March.
Lauber did an extensive search of the Garner home said he went through the garbage tote for Garner’s residence and discovered an earring that belonged to Wienckowski.“The earring was wrapped in an ATM bank withdrawal slip that Garner had made three days earlier, and the earring
Initially a DNA Test to see if hair that was found on the body that was related to the incident was never done even though a request was put in. . DNA tests did evntually determine, however, that a hair found on Wienckowski’s body belonged to Garner, he said.
The garbage tote in which Wienckowski’s body was found was reported missing by its owner weeks before it turned up next to the church, Lauber said. And investigators suspected that if Wienckowski was dead, she was probably inside that missing container.
The big question police have to answer, So where was Wienckowski’s body in the five weeks from early December when her family reported her missing to its discovery on Jan. 9, 2009?
For more on Antoine Garner go here: