BUFFALO, NY - Attorney Steve Cohen comforted Amanda Wienckowski's mother as she left a vigil in remembrance of her daughter, who would have turned 22 on Wednesday.
The vigil was held at the site where Amanda's frozen, naked body was found stuffed into a garbage tote on Spring Street near Clinton Street on Buffalo's east side on January 2009.
The Erie County Medical Examiner concluded Wienckowski's death was the result of a drug overdose, but her family has long believed it was a homicide.
"I don't yet know the truth, but I can tell you that a dead body does not simply move itself into a garbage tote," Cohen said.
Members of Wienckowski's family acknowledge she was a drug abuser, but insist she had stopped using and was turning her life around when she died.
"I know she got herself into bad things but she should still be here with us and it's wrong what happened," said Amanda's younger brother Chris Wienckowski, who attended the vigil along with several dozen members of the Wienckowski family.
The vigil marked the conclusion of a very long day which Cohen spent mostly in the company of forensic pathologist Dr. Silvia O. Comparini, hired by the family to look at evidence just now being turned over to his office a year-and-a half after Wienckowski's death.
Cohen says Dr. Comparini, who arrived just after 9am on a flight from Los Angeles, rode with him to the Medical Examiner's office on Grider street to review evidence which local authorities agreed to turn over last week.
They included parts of Amanda's body which had been held by authorities here and were not part of the remains exhumed by the family which Dr. Comparini was previously able to examine.
"She (Comparini) was taken into the laboratory where she was given the missing body parts," reported Cohen, noting that Comparini was given "absolute cooperation" to examine them.
However, Cohen said things got controversial after he and Comparini began reviewing previously unreleased files on the case.
"That was going well until we started to discover that there was in fact DNA evidence, which had previously been denied by the county. When I started to press an assistant to (Erie County Chief Medical Examiner) Dr. James Woytash to explain why there was a fax indicating that there was DNA evidence in the case, which was something which they'd previously denied, I was ordered off premises for making that observation," Cohen said, adding that Dr. Comparini was allowed to stay and conclude her work.
Cohen says he can't be sure of the significance of DNA to the case, because the results of any testing that might have been done weren't provided to him.
But perhaps the most compelling evidence to support the family's contention that a killer claimed thier loved one, according to Cohen, were photographs of Wienckowski taken just after her body was found. Cohen says seeing them makes him more convinced than before that Wienckowski died at the hands of another person.
"Dr. Comparini said it would be very helpful for her to see photographs shortly after she ( Amanda) died, and we saw those today. These were photographs we had previously not had access to that showed trauma to her body. There were defensive wounds on the arms, there were wounds on the face that show a struggle and there were the compression marks about the throat. There was a wound to her head and scalp and legs. And, by the way, the Erie County Medical Examiner's office found all those wounds and commented on all those wounds and that's what makes this absolutely bizarre," Cohen said.
Cohen added that, "we also learned today that five police officers who responded to the scene declared this a homicide. My question now is, who flipped the switch and got everyone to back off?"
"We've got the data here in front of us that, in common sense, would normally say this is a homicide," said Amanda's stepfather Ken Fink. He and other members of the family also hope that if the new evidence results in the conviction of a killer in the case, then the date of Amanda's 22nd birthday will be remembered for being more than a somber occasion.
Meanwhile, watching the vigil from his front porch, was a man whom the Wienckowski family believes may know more about the final moments of their loved one's life.
The garbage tote containing Amanda's body was discovered across the street from the home of Antoine Garner.
Garner declined an on camera interview, but acknowledged to 2 On Your Side's Dave McKinley that he had contact with Wienckowski the night she is believed to have disappeared. However, Garner insisted that she left with another man that night.
Garner also acknowledged being interviewed by police, and claims he's been fully cooperative by consenting to three separate searches of his home and voluntarily submitting a DNA sample.
Garner also had a chair set up in his lawn with a homemade sign scrawled on a piece of cardboard clearly visible to those attending the vigil.
It read: "Antoine Garner is innocent !!!"