Grandfather Who Dropped Toddler Out of Cruise Ship Window to Plead Guilty to Negligent Homicide
On Tuesday, Anello changed his plea and waived his right to a trial over the tragic death of his 18-month-old granddaughter Chloe Wiegand, ABC News reports. The change in plea comes one day after he declined his right to a jury trial in favor of one before a judge, the outlet reported.
In agreeing to a plea deal, the grandfather, 51, will avoid any jail time. ABC reports that a hearing date for Anello to make his plea officially before the court has yet to be scheduled.
“This decision was an incredibly difficult one for Sam and the family,” Anello’s attorney said in a statement to ABC, adding that “because the plea agreement includes no jail time and no admission of facts, it was decided the plea deal is in the best interests of the family so that they can close this horrible chapter and turn their focus to mourning Chloe and fighting for cruise passenger safety by raising awareness about the need for all common carriers to adhere to window fall prevention laws designed to protect children from falling from windows.”
The family’s lawyer Michael Winkleman did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.
In a statement from the Puerto Rican Department of Justice previously obtained by PEOPLE, prosecutors alleged that Anello “negligently exposed the child to the abyss through a window on the 11th floor” of the cruise ship while it was docked in San Juan, Puerto Rico, last July.
Anello and his family have maintained that Chloe’s fall was an accident and not a crime. In November, Anello told NBC, “They can’t do anything worse to me than has already happened.”
Less than a week later, he opened up to CBS This Morning about the tragedy.
Anello said that he was holding Chloe against a railing next to what he thought was a bank of closed windows in a children’s play area of the Royal Caribbean ship. But she slipped from his grasp, falling through an open window onto a dock 10 stories below.
“I remember trying to find her on the floor and then I saw her fall, I saw her fall, I saw her fall and I was just in disbelief,” Anello told CBS. “And I was like ‘Oh my God.’ And I think for a while I was in shock and I was just standing there.”
Anello said that he relives that moment “all the time,” explaining that he thought there was glass to stop his granddaughter’s fall.
“And then I just remember screaming that ‘I thought there was glass, I thought there was glass.’ I still say it to myself, it’s just, I kind of relive it all the time and I just thought there was glass there. I don’t know what else to tell you.”
Winkleman told PEOPLE after Anello was charged in October, “It’s like pouring salt in [the family’s] open wounds. They’re in the beginning stages of a lengthy process that is grief. They were trying to put their lives back together, and you throw this into the mix and it puts them back to square one.”
Chloe’s family has said that the cruise line is to blame for her death.
“I do think there is going to be blame and significant blame on the cruise line, and I will do everything I can to hold them accountable, for what appears to me to be negligence,” Winkleman said in a previous interview with Today.
A Royal Caribbean spokesperson told PEOPLE at the time of Chloe’s death, “We are deeply saddened by yesterday’s tragic incident, and our hearts go out to the family. We’ve made our Care Team available to assist the family with any resources they need. Out of respect for their privacy, we do not plan to comment further on the incident.”
Chloe’s parents told Today in July that they don’t blame Anello.
“He was extremely hysterical. The thing that he has repeatedly told us is, ‘I believed that there was glass,'” Chloe’s mother, Kimberly Wiegand, said. “He will cry over and over and over. At no point ever — ever — has [he] ever put our kids in danger.”
Chloe’s father, Alan Wiegand, added that his daughter was Anello’s “best friend.”