Local News

Friday, Apr 20 2012 05:44 PM

Elder abuse case raises questions of familial responsibility

BY JILL COWAN Californian staff writer jcowan@bakersfield.com

An elder abuse case experts have called the worst they'd ever seen finally came to an end Friday morning after a judge denied a motion for the victim's grandson to back out of an earlier plea deal.

Kern County Superior Court Judge Michael Lewis took the opportunity to address the broader topic of familial responsibility in what Deputy District Attorney Michelle Domino later said is a growing issue of elder abuse.

Joseph McCoy 30, and his mother, Darlene Green, 54, were sentenced according to the terms of the earlier agreement, with adjustments for time served.

"We have not yet reached a point as a society where you only have a relationship with another human being if (it's) bestowed upon you by the government," Lewis said in explaining his decision.

He said the fact McCoy was no longer being paid by the state to care for his 90-year-old grandmother, Margaret Gray, did not absolve him of his duty as a grandson who would've been aware of Gray's condition.

"We are not quite there," Lewis said in response to attorney Brian McNamara's argument that -- although McCoy's treatment of Gray was morally reprehensible -- McCoy was not legally responsible for her care.

Furthermore, Lewis explained, McCoy didn't clearly show that he'd misunderstood the terms of the plea agreement, which meant he was ineligible to withdraw his plea.

McCoy had surprised even his own attorney, Deputy Public Defender Janice Kim, when he withdrew the plea at the last second on Feb. 2. It also left Green in the lurch. She spent approximately two extra months in jail, as she waited to be sentenced based on her son's eleventh-hour switch.

A subtly defiant McCoy testified Friday morning that the state's In Home Supportive Services had stopped paying him at the beginning of 2011.

When Domino asked about McCoy's role as Gray's paid primary caregiver while he lived with her for more than a decade before she was found decaying in her own filth Feb. 11, 2011, McCoy accused Domino of "playing mind games."

"I believe things are being twisted around," he said.

McCoy also said he felt pressured to accept a plea deal, although he never claimed to have misunderstood his rights or the terms of his plea.

"I felt that I had ben put into a corner by (Domino) and the justice system and was forced into taking a deal," he told Domino, as he stood near his seat with other defendants in Department 12.

But McNamara -- who was assigned to defend McCoy after McCoy requested and was granted a change of attorney -- said that was not their argument.

Instead, McNamara claimed that when IHSS notified McCoy that he was no longer authorized as a paid primary caregiver as of the end of 2010, he was relieved of his legal responsibility. He said that because the case involved elder care (as opposed to child care) custody standards shouldn't be applied in a similar way.

"Regardless of age, the person is still an adult," McNamara said. "That doesn't go to a criminal (liability) -- that goes to a moral (responsibility)," he said.

Domino countered that McCoy never mentioned to investigators that he had no more obligation to care for Gray and told a deputy that he was, in fact her primary caregiver.

"You never told (a sheriff's deputy) you know what, I don't have to take care of my grandmother," she said.

Domino pointed out that McCoy had not only been his grandmother's contracted primary caregiver since 1999, he still lived with her when she was found.

"She raised you?" Domino asked.

McCoy responded quietly, chin out. "Yes."

"You lived with her your whole entire life?" Domino continued.

"Yes," McCoy said again.

Domino said it was only about two months from when McCoy was notified that he would no longer be paid for his caregiving to when his grandmother's condition was reported. McCoy had already been in custody on separate domestic violence charges for three days when Gray was discovered in her Lake Isabella home.

She was dehydrated and had multiple bedsores, in addition to an ulcer so severe her tailbone was exposed, sheriff's reports said. Healthcare officials estimated she had been left unattended for weeks. She died April 1, 2011.

In the end, Lewis sided with Domino and did not allow McCoy to withdraw his plea.

McNamara and Green's attorney, John Tello, agreed to apply the sentencing originally outlined in the plea deal.

Green dabbed her eyes but said nothing as she was sentenced to three years of probation, with one year in jail. She was expected to be released Friday, however, because of time already served.

McCoy was sentenced to five years in prison, less about a year of time served. He also got a strike on his record. He had also pleaded no contest in the spousal abuse case.

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