- Salvatore ‘Sam’ Anello faces three years in prison if he’s found guilty of negligent homicide in the death of his granddaughter Chloe Weigand
- The elderly IT worker arrived at court in San Juan, Puerto Rico on Wednesday, wearing a pinstripe black suit and checkered tie and declined to comment
- Anello is accused of lifting Chloe towards an open window before she tumbled 150ft to her death on to a concrete dock on July 7
- Chloe’s parents Alan and Kimberly Weigand did not accompany Anello to court but they have been steadfast in their support for the maternal grandfather
- The family blames Royal Caribbean for ‘inexplicably’ leaving a window open in a family play area, as Anello was unaware the clear pane had been slid open
- Negligent homicide is a misdemeanor under the Puerto Rican penal code however it is punishable by a minimum of three years in prison
The grandfather accused of dropping toddler Chloe Weigand from the 11th deck of a Royal Caribbean cruise ship made his first court appearance on Wednesday as Puerto Rican prosecutors insisted it was their ‘duty’ to charge him with negligent homicide.
Salvatore ‘Sam’ Anello faces three years in prison if he’s found guilty of causing Chloe’s death by lifting her towards an open window before she tumbled from the Freedom of the Seas while it docked in San Juan on July 7.
The elderly IT worker from Valparaiso, Indiana, cut a sad, isolated figure as he arrived at San Juan Superior Court, shuffling silently through a throng of reporters.
Wearing a pinstripe black suit and checkered tie, he sat alone in the wooden benches with a court-appointed translator who relayed the Spanish language proceedings to him in English.
Judge Gisela Alfonso Fernandez told the grey-haired, bespectacled granddad she was giving both the prosecution and defense more time to prepare ahead of a December 17 pre-trial conference.
Defense attorney Jose Guillermo Perez Ortiz asked whether his client could be excused from attending but the judge snapped back: ‘In this type of case it is mandatory to attend.’
The court heard that ‘several’ eyewitnesses, including two from overseas, will be asked to describe what they saw in the moments before 18-month-old Chloe plunged 150ft on to a concrete dock this summer.
Her parents Alan and Kimberly Weigand did not accompany Anello him to court Wednesday but they have been steadfast in their support for the maternal grandfather, instead blaming and threatening to sue Royal Caribbean for ‘inexplicably’ leaving a window open in a family play area.
They maintain Anello lifted Chloe up so she could bang on the glass as she loved to do at her older brother’s ice hockey games, unaware the pane had been slid open.
Outside court, lead prosecutor Laura Hernandez Gutierrez defended the decision to charge Anello with negligent homicide, considered a misdemeanor under the Puerto Rican penal code but punishable by three years in prison.
‘What I can tell you is that we have initiated this criminal procedure because we have the evidence to sustain the charges pressed,’ she told reporters.
Asked whether Puerto Rican authorities came under pressure to prosecute Anello rather than challenge Royal Caribbean, the world’s biggest cruise line operator, she said: ‘Of course not.
‘We don’t act under the influence of anybody. We just act because it is our duty.
‘We just investigate everything that it is in our jurisdiction. What I can tell you right now is that we have a negligent homicide charge against Mr Anello.’
Hernandez Gutierrez said on-board CCTV could be used as evidence but said it would not be made public until the trial and refused to say what it showed.
Anello was quizzed by police in the hours after Chloe’s fall but left San Juan without giving a formal witness statement, blaming confusion, his extreme distress and the lack of an interpreter.
He voluntarily returned to Puerto Rico however when a judge issued an arrest warrant and he learnt last month there was probable cause to charge him with negligent homicide.
Chloe and her granddad had been about to embark on a seven-night Caribbean cruise with her parents, older brother, fraternal grandparents and Anello’s wife Patricia.
The fun-packed family vacation was supposed take in the sights of San Juan, St Maarten, St Kitts, Antigua, St Lucia and Barbados.
But the first signal their trip had gone horrifically wrong came at around 4:30pm on July 7 when passengers in a dining area overlooking a pool heard screams.
Chloe’s mom arrived moments later and broke down as she looked over the side and saw her daughter lying motionless on the concrete Pan American dock below.
Doctors stationed on board the 15-deck ship raced to save the toddler but she was declared dead at the scene having suffered suspected blunt force trauma to her head consistent with a fall.
‘When they told me Chloe had died, I didn’t know she went out a window,’ Kimberly, 36, said in an interview with Today.
‘I just saw Sam standing next to the wall of windows, screaming and banging on it and there was like somebody trying to stop me. I just kept saying, ‘Take me to my baby. Where is my baby?’
‘I didn’t know she had gone out the window. Then I looked over, and it wasn’t water beneath, it was concrete. To lose our baby this way is just unfathomable.
‘I never want another mother to have to experience what I had to, to see what I had to see or scream or how I had to scream.’
They found the area had been busy but didn’t obtain any first person accounts, with fellow passengers seemingly distracted by the pool, drinks and vacation plans.
Officers did however obtain critical video footage from the Freedom of the Seas on-board camera system which was described as ‘definitive’ by police sources.
In the wake of the tragedy Anello was described by friends and family as a proud and loving grandparent who doted over his Chloe.
Puerto Rican officials insisted a range of charges, from neglect to murder, remained in play but her parents said they didn’t blame him, insisting the cruise operator should be held accountable instead.
‘He was extremely hysterical. The thing he repeatedly told us was, I believed there was glass. He would cry, over and over,’ Kimberly told Today.
The couple said they intended to take legal action against Royal Caribbean, saying the firm was ‘obviously’ to blame for Chloe’s death.
‘There are a million things that could have been done to make that safer,’ added Chloe’s grieving dad Alan, 40.
‘Why on earth is a window open on the 11th floor without a screen or anything? Their answer was ‘we need ventilation.’
To date no lawsuit has been filed against Royal Caribbean but their US-based attorney Michael Winkleman predicts that will change because police will finally have to hand over on board CCTV tapes now they are being entered into evidence.
He told DailyMail..com he plans to use those tapes as the basis of the family’s suit.
Royal Caribbean has described Chloe’s death as a ‘tragic incident’, refusing to comment further and referring inquiries to Puerto Rican authorities.