Professor dies awaiting trial

Jessie Markovetz

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ST. PAUL, Minn. — Dr. Mine An Ener, the University professor arrested and charged with the second-degree murder of her infant daughter in August, died in a Ramsey County, Minn., jail Saturday afternoon.Police said Ener, 38, of Wynnewood was found with a plastic garbage bag over her head shortly before 4 p.m. The apparent cause of death was suffocation, but police have yet to rule if the death was a suicide. Ener was taking medication for postpartum depression following the birth of her daughter, Raya Donagi, and relatives had worried the professor might try to kill herself prior to the trip to Minnesota. The six-month-old infant had Down syndrome.Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher said the week before she died, Ener tried to hang herself with a sheet. As a result of her suicide attempt, she was issued heavier clothing that could not be knotted and the jail staff was required to check in on her every 30 minutes.If Ener did kill herself, the details of how she was able to do so remain uncertain.”We’re launching a full investigation into the circumstances of her death,” Fletcher said.According to the sheriff’s office, the last person known to speak to Ener was a deputy who talked with her briefly just before 3 p.m. in the jail’s common area, which then held about a dozen inmates.Sometime after speaking with the deputy, Ener covered herself with a blanket, presumably to sleep – a common practice in the brightly-lit area. Another deputy making the 3:15 p.m. rounds, whose identity was not revealed to the press, assumed Ener was asleep and did not disturb her.At 3:45 p.m., that same deputy saw Ener was still covered and removed the blanket to find that she was dead.Despite her previous suicide attempt, Ener’s attorney did not ask for her to be placed in a psychiatric ward. According to published reports, attorney Joseph Friedberg thought such a request would have stressed her emotional state, something which he felt would hamper their legal strategy.Dr. Adele Lindenmeyr, chairperson of the history department, knew Ener well both as her supervisor in the department and socially outside of the University.”We’ve lost a friend,” Lindenmeyr said. “I know it sounds banal, but even though I was her boss in the department, she was first and foremost my friend.”Lindenmeyr said she and Ener both specialized in charity, poverty and treatment of the poor in different regions of the world – Lindenmeyr in Russia and Ener the Middle East – something which drew them close together. The two hiked together and once went bird watching.”At this time in international relations, we’ve lost someone whose perspective on Middle Eastern culture and current events was invaluable,” Lindenmeyr said.After hearing Ener had died, Lindenmeyr and other professors and secretaries in the department spent the day at the home of fellow professor Dr. Seth Koven, where they shared stories and memories of their colleague.Lindenmeyr recalled a three-day conference at the University of Michigan that Ener set up in May 2000. “It was just wonderful and gratifying to see her so enthusiastic,” she said.”She lived for her work, but she was extraordinarily collegial … she loved working with people to help their own scholarship. She loved teaching, the field and the department.”She never did anything without all her heart.”Ener’s former students recalled a professor devoted to her students as much as she was to her studies.Fareha Ahmed, a senior sociology major, had classes with Ener during her freshman and junior years, but visited with the professor on a number of occasions each semester.”She was more than willing to give advice,” Ahmed said. “She wanted to leave her door open for anyone who wanted to learn from her wisdom.” “She was one of those professors who wasn’t your official adviser, but who would talk with you and [offer] a place to hang out.”In addition to her devotion to helping students, her proficiency as a teacher was well-respected by her students, Ahmed said.”She just had a lot of passion. She had all this experience under her belt but was always looking for new challenges,” she said. “She was an absolutely fabulous professor.”Barbara K. Clement of the public relations department expressed sympathy on behalf of Villanova. “The University mourns the death of this gifted and respected member of our Villanova community,” she said. “Dr. Ener and her family are in our thoughts and prayers.”Ener was arrested Aug. 4 after slicing her daughter’s throat twice with a kitchen knife in her mother’s Ramsey County home. She confessed to the killing later that day while in police custody.The symptoms Ener exhibited led some to believe her condition was an acute form of postpartum depression called postpartum psychosis.Dr. Marcy Weiner, a therapist at the Postpartum Stress Center in Rosemont, said the professor was likely underdiagnosed, though she never examined Ener.”You tend to see a lack of emotional response. They’re not hysterically upset, they’re just very flat,” she said of patients with postpartum psychosis.Lindenmeyr was somewhat familiar with the condition of Ener’s daughter, though she said she cannot imagine what the young mother suffered in the past month.”I think it is impossible for people like us to understand what it’s like to lose hope,” Lindenmeyr said. “You need a Dostoyevsky, a Tolstoy, a Sophocles for that.”Ener was a well-respected professor at the University. She earned an average score of A- from responders on the VOICE student survey of teachers.”She was someone who was pleasant to be around,” senior Ryan MacMaster, an honors and political science major, said. “When I saw the headline [of her arrest], she was the last professor I expected the article to be about.”A memorial service was held for Ener on Thursday.