Maxwell Family Believes 11-Year-Old’s Death Was Accidental, Lanza Says

FULTON, NY – A certificate of death confirms that 11-year-old Erin Maxwell died of asphyxia. What police are investigating as a homicide, the family believes was a tragic accident.

<p>Salvatore Lanza</p>
Salvatore Lanza

Representing the Maxwell family, attorney Salvatore Lanza distributed the death certificate prior to making a statement on the family’s behalf today (Friday) at the Fulton Municipal Building. Erin’s father, Lindsey Maxwell; her step-mother, Lynn Maxwell; and step-brother (biological son of Lynn Maxwell) Alan Jones attended the press conference.

The death certificate, which is signed by Onondaga County Medical Examiner Mary Jumbelic reads that the immediate cause of Erin’s death is asphyxia. The report also says that Jumbelic detected sexual trauma. Under a section that calls for a description of how the injury occurred, the report reads, “Assaulted by another.”

“The Maxwell family believes the medical examiner is in error as to the determination of homicide,” Lanza said. “They believe instead that Erin’s death is the result of accidental death.”

Lanza explained the events that took place Aug. 29. He said Lynn Maxwell went to work at 7:15 a.m. and that Erin spent the day with her father. She ate breakfast and lunch, watched movies and fed the animals in the barn with him.

At 4:20 p.m., Lynn Maxwell called her husband to see if he wanted to go to Wal-Mart in Granby. When the two of them left the home, Lynn Maxwell told Erin to clean her room and said Jones would feed her dinner.

“Alan was playing a video game on his laptop in the kitchen,” Lanza said. He noted that Jones has no criminal history, is well educated and has lived with his mother his entire life. He said he wears prescription glasses and has hearing loss for which he has had numerous surgeries.

Lanza said Jones later approached Erin’s bedroom to bring her dinner.

“Alan saw Erin from the doorway,” Lanza said. “It appeared as if she were standing… next to her bed. Alan went up to her and saw there was a green cord… wrapped around her neck.”

<p>Alan Jones</p>
Alan Jones

The cord was reportedly attached to a screw that was located at the top of her window frame. Lanza said the screw had been in the window frame since before the Maxwells moved into the home.

Lanza said Jones removed the cord and called 911. A 911 worker guided him through CPR and paramedics arrived almost instantly, he said.

At 5:35 p.m., Jones called to say Erin was hurt and that the ambulance was at their home. The Maxwells drove to Lee Memorial where the doctor said the child had been stabilized but that it “did not look good.”

“He thought (Erin) was brain dead,” he said.

The child was prepared for transport by helicopter to University Hospital. The Maxwells drove to Syracuse. Jones was at the state police barracks in Fulton.

Erin was pronounced dead at 4:20 a.m., Aug. 30. Lanza said the Maxwells were at her side when she died.

Lanza said Jones provided written statements for police both at the scene and at the Fulton barracks; and submitted to a polygraph test and provided a DNA sample at the North Syracuse barracks. Each time, he said Jones waived his right to an attorney and cooperated with police.

“Alan did this because he believes he has nothing to hide,” Lanza said.

Lanza noted that police had a problem with Jones’ demeanor after learning that Erin had died.

“He was informed that his step-sister was dead,” he said. “Alan was distraught… (Police) felt he was not distraught enough. They made commentary on his mannerisms. … That is how Alan has lived. It’s his character, his nature.”

Lanza said Jones was released after 12 hours of questioning at approximately 5:30 a.m. from the North Syracuse state police barracks.

<p>Portions of Erin Maxwell's death certificate</p>
Portions of Erin Maxwell's death certificate (click to see larger image)

“The Maxwell family does not believe Erin committed suicide. … Instead, the Maxwell family believes Erin’s death to be accidental,” Lanza said. Offering theories, Lanza said that Erin liked to jump on her bed. He also said she may have been “play acting” a scene from one of her favorite movies.

“They do not know,” he said.

“The state police have removed the window frame from the room,” Lanza said, noting that he believes the screw is being tested to see if it could support between 70-80 pounds.

Addressing the sexual trauma, Lanza said the family knows nothing about it. He said the police have Jones DNA and conducted a rape kit as part of the investigation.

“He tells me he is innocent,” Lanza stressed. “Erin was old enough… she bathed herself and dressed herself.”

Lanza pointed out that the child was in Nevada visiting family for more than a month over the summer and said the police should be looking to find “if something happened there.”

Lanza addressed several other points on the family’s behalf, including the condition of the Maxwell home on Route 264, the number of cats that were found at the residence, the amount of household garbage stored on the porch at the home and the reasons why Lindsey Maxwell has been seen wearing a costume that included a cape and a sword at his home.

Lanza said that Lynn Maxwell has been the sole supporter of the family and that Lindsey Maxwell and Alan Jones, 27, work odd jobs when they can find work. Neither was employed at the time of Erin’s death, he said.

<p>Lindsey (left) and Lynn Maxwell</p>
Lindsey (left) and Lynn Maxwell

“Lynn did the best she could to pay the bills,” Lanza said. “It was not enough money for general upkeep of the house.”

As the family fell behind, Lanza said they could not afford garbage removal and opted to store household trash on the porch. Approximately three months worth of trash was stored at the time of Erin’s death, he said. He stressed that all garbage was removed from the main living areas of the home.

As for the number of cats, Lanza explained that Maxwell family essentially has a soft heart for stray cats.

“The Maxwells took in as many stray cats as they could,” he said. “None were turned away.”

He stressed that while keeping up with the amount of feces was a challenge, it was not in piles between two to six feet as it has been reported. He noted that the family kept six litter boxes in the house that were cleaned out every day.

“The house did have a smell of cat feces and urine,” Lanza said. “The Maxwells did their best to keep the house clean.”

Lanza said the Maxwells believed the house was livable and pointed out that the Department of Social Services (DSS) seemingly agreed after two investigations. Lanza said that DSS made recommendations to the family when it was investigated and that the family complied with the instructions.

“There are no other excuses they can make, and they make none,” Lanza said. He noted that the family did not consider reaching out to DSS for help with its financial situation.

<p>While the Maxwell's attorney defended the Department of Social Services, Steve Burdick brought a sign to the press conference attacking the agency.</p>
While the Maxwells' attorney defended the Department of Social Services, Palermo resident Steve Burdick brought a sign attacking the agency.

“It is (the Maxwells) belief that Oswego County Department of Social Services bears no responsibility in the death of their daughter,” he added.

Lanza noted, however, that the attorney for DSS requested Jones make another statement today and said that the office is considering bringing a neglect charge against the family in Oswego County Family Court.

Lanza said his client will not be making another statement and announced the family’s intent to fight any DSS charge.

“We appreciate what DSS has done,” Lanza said. “But if they think they are going to start an investigation now… we will bring a lawsuit in state and federal court against all parties involved if that happens.”

Lanza ended the press conference taking no questions, citing the ongoing investigation.