Friday, October 27, 2006

Terminal Elder Abuse = Charged Murder

On September 9, 2006, the Associated Press reported the tragic end to a victim of alleged elder abuse occurring within a family home. The news article, found here as posted by NBC Channel 10 News, reported as follows:

An Allentown man was charged Friday in what local police described as the worst case of elder abuse they had ever seen.

The man's 76-year-old mother was found inside her Allentown home last February in deplorable conditions.

Police said she was dehydrated, starving, and sitting in a soiled chair. She later died at the hospital.

Yesterday, police charged her 55-year-old son, David Dettra, with third-degree murder.

They said he failed to provide his mother, with food, water and medical care.

Further details were reported on that same date by the Associated Press in a separate brief account posted here by CBS Channel 3 News:

Prosecutors in Lehigh County say the 70-pound woman was found dying in the soiled chair, surrounded by uneaten food. They say she was dehydrated and had severe leg ulcers.

Her son, 55-year-old David Dettra, is charged with third-degree murder and is being held in the Lehigh County Prison.

Authorities say Dettra, who worked in shipping at the Palmer Park Mall, did not call 911 until the day his mother died.

In a news account published on September 9, 2006, by
The Morning Call, found here, the serious nature of the alleged offenses and their consequences were reported:

Lehigh County District Attorney James B. Martin called the death of 76-year-old Marie Dettra "worst case of elder abuse I have ever seen."

The woman's son, David Dettra, was charged Friday with third-degree murder.

Dettra, 55, who lived with his mother for his entire life, did nothing to help her as she sat in a filthy living room chair for weeks, Martin said. She died Feb. 23 of infected bed sores, severe dehydration and starvation.

The investigation took months because investigators had to wait for autopsy results and other tests, Martin said.

Dettra was arraigned before District Judge Patricia Engler and sent to Lehigh County Prison under $250,000 bail. Dettra faces a maximum prison sentence of 40 years, Martin said.

On October 26, 2006, the Associated Press updated the matter in its news report, found here:

District Judge David Leh ruled that Dettra would face trial in Lehigh County Court, and refused a request to lower his bail from $250,000.

Public defender Rich Webster argued that the charge against Dettra should be dismissed because he had no legal duty to care for his mother. "Are you kidding me? This is a mother-son relationship," said First Assistant District Attorney Maria Dantos.

The Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office, in a pamphlet found here, references the offense of "Neglect of Dependent Person", as follows:

As the elderly or disabled become more and more dependent on others for their care, it becomes increasingly important for individuals who accept the position of trust as caretakers of these vulnerable people to be held accountable for neglecting those in their care. Failure to provide the care and treatment necessary to maintain the welfare of those who depend on that care is every bit as dangerous and harmful as intentional assaultive behavior. Criminal neglect of a care dependent person occurs when a caregiver knowingly, intentionally or recklessly fails to provide treatment, care, goods, or service that is necessary to maintain the health or safety of the care dependent person. The failure must then result in bodily injury to the care dependent person.

The AG's Office then identifies "Indicators of Patient Neglect" that might occur in an institution:

  • Care dependent persons who are malnourished, dehydrated, or have untreated bedsores.
  • Staff failing to follow doctors’ orders with regard to treatment of a care dependent person.
  • Failure to seek needed medical treatment for a care dependent person in a timely manner or not at all.
  • Care dependent persons who appear unkempt, unclean, or disheveled.
For a good summary (4 pages) of the crime in Pennsylvania known as "Neglect of Care-Dependent Persons", created by Act 28 of 1995 (now set forth in 18 Pa. C.S.A. Section 2713), see the "Questions & Answers" found here.

The summary sets forth the prohibited neglectful acts, the definitions of "care-dependent person", "caretaker", & "bodily injury", and the penalties for violations, either as a misdemeanor of the third degree or as a felony of the first degree.

The summary also addresses related Pennsylvania laws:
  • Act 13 of 1997 (35 P.S. Sections 10211, et, seq.) regarding "Mandatory Reporting of Abuse to Public Authorities"
  • Act 169 of 1996 (35 P.S. Sections 10211, et. seq.) regarding "Prohibition on Hiring Persons With Criminal Convictions"
If one suspects elder abuse, voluntary reporting is advisable. The PA Department of Aging indicates here when & how to make a report confidentially:
  • Any person who believes that an older adult is being abused, neglected, exploited or abandoned may file a report 24 hours a day with any Area Agency on Aging or call the statewide elder abuse hotline at 1-800-490-8505.
  • Abuse reports can be made on behalf of an older adult whether the person lives in the community or in a care facility such as a nursing home, personal care home, hospital, etc.
  • Reporters may remain anonymous.
  • Reporters have legal protection from retaliation, discrimination and civil or criminal prosecution.