The grandfather of an 18-month-old girl who fell to death from the open window of a Royal Caribbean cruise ship last year pleaded guilty to negligent murder on Thursday.
The ship had been docked in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in July 2019 when toddler Chloe Wiegand fell through an 11-story window while in the care of her grandfather Salvatore Anello.
Anello, also known as Sam, was charged by the Puerto Rican authorities in October 2019 and initially pleaded not guilty. In February, he said he would plead guilty so that his family could begin to pull away from the tragedy.
The Puerto Rico Department of Justice said in a statement Thursday that a judge accepted Anello’s plea. He will be sentenced on December 10th.
Michael Winkleman, an attorney for the Wiegand family, said Thursday that the plea means Anello, who lives in South Bend, Indiana, will avoid jail time and await parole in his home state.
He said the decision to change the pleading was “incredibly difficult” for Anello and the family.
“However, since the plea agreement did not include jail time or admission of fact, it was decided that the plea is in the best interests of the family so that they can close this terrible chapter and focus on the grief for Chloe and the battle for cruise passengers safety through awareness for the need for all major transport companies to comply with fall prevention laws to protect children from falling windows, “the lawyer said in a statement.
Chloe was with her mom at a kids water park on the 11th deck of the pool. Her mother had another matter to attend to and asked Anello to watch her, according to a lawsuit the family filed against Royal Caribbean Cruises in December 2019.
The family allege that the cruise line is responsible for Chloe’s death, a claim the company has strongly denied. Royal Caribbean did not immediately return a request for comment on Thursday.
In a July 2019 interview on TODAY, Chloe’s mother, Kimberly Wiegand, said it was the cruise line’s fault “not having a safer situation” on the 11th floor pool deck.
“There are a million things that could have been done to make it safer,” she said. “I know my mother asked people, ‘Why on earth is there a window with no screen or anything open on the 11th floor?'”
The lawsuit said Anello “was closely monitoring” his granddaughter “when Chloe went to a nearby glass wall.” Anello followed him and put the girl by the window so she could knock on the glass, but she slipped out of his hands and fell through the open window.
Anello has said repeatedly that he didn’t know the window was open. In an interview with CBS last year, he said that was color blind and suggested that he might not be able to distinguish between the tinted closed windows and the open windows.
But the company countered that the grandfather “undoubtedly” knew that the window was open.
In a January court case in response to the lawsuit, the cruise line contained a series of stills allegedly from a security video showing that Anello knew the window was open before he held his granddaughter to it.
“When he arrives at the open window and Chloe is on the floor, Mr. Anello bends his torso over the wooden railing and out of the window frame for about eight seconds,” the company said in the court record. “Because Mr. Anello leaned out of the window himself, he knew that the window was open.”
Winkleman, the Wiegand family’s lawyer, said the pictures were “misleading”.
Nicole Acevedo and The Associated Press contributed.