Woman Cleared in Father's Death
By Tim O'Leary - The Press-Enterprise
In a rare move, a Riverside County Superior Court judge Thursday dismissed the case against a Temecula woman who was charged with killing her father by failing to provide adequate home health care.
The trial had sparked debate among national elder abuse on caregiver support groups on whether relatives should be prosecuted if something goes awry when they care for loved ones at home.
Rather than let a jury deliberate, Judge Edward D. Webster granted a defense motion to dismiss a second-degree murder charge filed against Adrienne Powers. Such motions are routinely denied in criminal cases.
Webster said there was not enough evidence presented to conclude that Powers caused the March 1996 death of her 76-year-old father.
He ordered her released from county jail, where she has been imprisoned for more than two years. The ruling prevents prosecutors from filing new charges in the case.
"I always believed this day would come but is took sheer determination and the artistry of my defense attorney, Paul Grech," Powers said as she was released from jail.
After the ruling, prosecutor Jeanne Roy said, "The judge was wrong. I think the evidence was there to support a case of murder, but more so, that decision should be in the hands of the jury."
Prosecutors alleged that Powers provided poor care for her father, Walter Eggleston, which led to his hospitalization for bed sores, malnutrition, dehydration and other problems. He suffered a fatal heart attack three months later.
The 56-year-old single mother said she did her best to care for her dad while stretching her limited income and caring for teen-age children. She said she struggled to honor her father's desire to remain with her instead of being placed in a nursing home.
Sacramento law professor said Webster's ruling was a rare instance of a judge sidestepping a jury and determining that the prosecution had not proved a cause of death.
"It's very unusual for a judge to direct a verdict of acquittal and take it away from a jury," said Joshua Dressler, a professor at McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento. " It raises textbook issues future law students have to think about."
The key issues centered around how Eggleston died and whether caregivers should be held responsible for the death of someone under their care, Dressler said. Assigning blame could have a chilling effect on adult children who are contemplating caring for their parents at home instead of placing them in a nursing home.
Roy said the ruling did not shake her belief that the proper charges were filed against Powers in September 1996. The second-degree murder charge, which carried a prison sentence of 15 years to life, replaced an elder abuse count filed against Powers eight months earlier.
"If I thought, for one second, this was not a murder case, I would not have been in there (court), ever," she said. Our position is, this is, was, a murder and, if we had to file it again today, we'd file murder."
Grech, a Riverside lawyer, said a murder charge should not have been filed in the case. He said Powers believed so strongly that she was innocent she refused to plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter before the trial.
If a plea bargain had been struck, he said, Powers could have gotten out of jail soon or perhaps would have been released already on the basis of time she had spent behind bars.
"I think she was confident that the case would end up the way it did," Grech said. "I'm pretty confident that, if the jury had been given the case, they would have reached the same conclusion."
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