Woman’s Refusal Of Transfusion Complicates Nature Of Charges
GREENWICH — When Carol Ferenz stood by her religious principles, it may have cost her life. It certainly left authorities in a quandary about her son.
Ferenz, a Jehovah’s Witness, turned down a blood transfusion after she was stabbed multiple times in her Greenwich home on New Year’s Eve. The Westchester County Medical Examiner in New York said her death was a homicide caused by blood loss due to stab wounds.
Her 42-year-old son, Stephen Ferenz, who is mentally ill, is charged with two counts of first-degree assault. Authorities are weighing whether to charge him with homicide, evaluating whether the victim’s decision to refuse a transfusion played a central role in her death.
“Certainly it had to play some role,” said prosecutor Jim Bernardi. “At this point the degree to which it affected the outcome is still awaiting a review of the medical records.”
The Jehovah’s Witnesses shun the outside world in many respects. They cite verses in Leviticus and Acts that they say forbid blood transfusions. One often-cited Leviticus passage reads: “Whatsoever man … eats any manner of blood, I will cut him off from among his people.”
Ferenz, who was arraigned Jan. 2 and is being held with bail set at $1 million bond under a suicide watch, is due back in court Tuesday.
A similar case occurred in 1998 in California, when a Jehovah’s Witness who was hit by a drunken driver refused a blood transfusion and died. The 32-year-old driver, Keith Cook, blamed Jadine Russell’s death on her religious faith, but Cook was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Most defenses in such cases fail, said Laurie Levenson, a criminal law professor at Loyola Law School.
“Overwhelmingly, the person who inflicted the harm is still responsible, notwithstanding the victim’s decision to reject medical treatment,” Levenson said. “The issue is who caused her death – her son or her decision not to have the blood transfusion.”
But Levenson said prosecutors are wise to proceed cautiously, noting that the reaction of jurors is unpredictable.
“It’s out of the ordinary. They [prosecutors] tend to pause because they realize it’s a more complicated case,” Levenson said.
Ferenz, 63, was stabbed in the chest and arm with a household knife. She was taken to Greenwich Hospital and later to Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla, N.Y., where she died on New Year’s Day.
“She looked the doctor in the eye and said, ‘No transfusion, no blood,'” her husband, said Andrew Ferenz, her husband.
He said he was not sure whether the lack of a transfusion contributed to her death. He said at one point he asked a doctor if his wife could have a transfusion, but said his wife had already given her instructions.
Ferenz said his son has been on medication for 25 years.
He said “no way” should his son be charged with homicide.
“He doesn’t know what he’s doing,” Ferenz said. “He needs help.”