Sunday November 18, 2012

HARTFORD, Conn. -- Eight years after being acquitted of manslaughter in a car crash that killed a prominent Republican campaign contributor, a Con nec ticut woman is nearing trial in another manslaughter case, this one stemming from her 15-year-old son's overdose death.

Heather Specyalski, 42, of Ashford, insists she played no role in the death of her only child, Brandon, who died from an alcohol and morphine overdose in August 2008. She be lieves she was arrested because state officials are still upset over her acquittal in the 1999 crash that killed businessman Neil Esposito.

"I think it is the most ludicrous, the most insane, the most crushing ... my son was my life," Specyalski said of her arrest in a phone interview with The As sociated Press. "I have a death sentence as it is to lose a child. Any mother you ask, the worst thing you could ever go through is losing your child."

Prosecutors and state police tell a different story, one that accuses Specyalski of second-degree manslaughter, negligent homicide and three counts of risk of injury to a minor.

The case was up for possible jury selection last Wednesday but was moved to Dec. 12 be cause of Specyalski's lingering health problems related to the 1999 accident in which her back was broken and her pelvis shattered. She said she just had hip surgery and faces more hip and back surgeries, after already having undergone dozens of operations.

Specyalski was originally charged with only the risk of in jury counts. Assistant State's At torney Matthew Crockett added the manslaughter and negligent homicide charges in September after reviewing the evidence in preparation for the trial. Spe cyalski has been free on a promise to appear in court since her December 2008 arrest.

Crockett declined to discuss specifics of the state's case, but he denied suggestions that the prosecution was retribution for Specyalski's acquittal.

State police allege Specyalski knew her son had drunk alcohol and ingested crushed morphine pills that he had taken from her without permission in the early morning hours of Aug. 24, 2008, but didn't seek medical attention until after finding him dead several hours later.

She had left her son asleep in the back seat of her car and covered him with a blanket when they got home at about 4 a.m., after they had driven one of his friends home, according to a po lice report. She found him dead at about 9 a.m., after she and another of Brandon's friends had checked on him a few times and he appeared to be fine, she told police.

Although she denies the criminal charges, Specyalski told police she thought her son had drank too much beer because he could barely walk and that she found crushed morphine on a counter in her home after leaving him in her car, according to the police report. A friend of Brandon's also told police that Specyalski told him to throw beer cans in the woods before she called 911.

Specyalski told the AP that she didn't know Brandon "had done what he did" before she went to sleep when he was in the car.

In the 1999 wreck, state police said Esposito's Merce des went out of control at up to 120 mph and crashed into several trees off Route 9 in Cromwell.

Troopers initially concluded Es posito was driving. But she was later arrested after troopers reopened the case at the urging of an aide to then-Gov. John G. Rowland and Espo sito's father, concluding that she was the driver.

Esposito and his father contributed to Rowland's campaigns, and state officials named a bridge after Neil Esposito on Interstate 91 in Wethersfield a year after his death.

The case made national headlines when Specyalski's lawyer, Jeremiah Donovan, raised the possibility that she was performing oral sex on Esposito while he was driving. A jury acquitted her of man slaughter and other charg es in April 2004.

Specyalski said she still doesn't remember anything about the accident. 

After the crash, Esposito's family filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against Specyalski, claim ing she was the driver, and she sued Esposito's estate, saying Esposito was the driver and was responsible for her injuries. Both lawsuits were settled under undisclosed terms.

Her ex-husband, Brian Spe cyalski, also of Ashford, won a $250,000 settlement from her home insurer in a wrongful-death lawsuit over Brandon's overdose. They had divorced in 1998.

Brian Specyalski said he wants to see his ex-wife go to prison.

"I think it's the worst thing that anyone could ever do in their entire life," he said. "She needs to go to jail for a long time ... to send a message to any other parent who does what Heather did."

Heather Specyalski said she wants clear her name.

"I didn't know when I went to sleep that he had done what he did," she said. "Brandon was my world. He was my heart, my soul."