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Conviction Stands in Horrific Elder Abuse Case

ST. LOUIS (CN) - A woman whose mother's rotting flesh led to a fatal staph infection cannot overturn her first-degree elder abuse conviction, a Missouri appeals court ruled.

The 21-page opinion details the gruesome situation that developed when Linda Gargus, a certified nurse assistant, moved in with her parents in December 2009.

Within a month, Linda had quit her job to provide her diabetic mother, Lorraine, with round-the-clock care after quitting her job. She "first noticed a bedsore the size of a tennis ball on Lorraine's upper buttocks on January 20, 2010," according to the ruling.

After Lorraine's husband died less than two weeks later, and Gargus discouraged visitors after the funeral. A granddaughter of Lorraine who eventually visited the mobile home described it as "dirty and smelly" with Lorraine's "bed ... located in the living room with animal cages stacked around it from floor to ceiling," the court noted.

She "testified there were 'hundreds' of mice everywhere."

Gargus eventually called an ambulance after discovering a small wound on Lorraine's foot.

At the hospital, the attending doctor found numerous bedsores, including a "main bedsore on victim's upper buttocks ... [described] as a 'huge, gaping, infected wound.'

"The infection had eaten the skin and subcutaneous fat around the bedsore, and an investigator for the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services testified she could see victim's tailbone through the basketball-sized wound," the ruling states. "The infection tested positive for staph and had turned septic."

Lorraine's doctor concluded that the wound on her foot was "consistent with having been eaten by a rodent."

Her leg was amputated below the knee the next day, and she died a short time later, on March 11, 2010, from multiple organ failure caused by the staph infection.

A jury convicted Gargus of first-degree elder abuse and acquitted her of first-degree involuntary manslaughter in Clark County Circuit Court.

Sentenced to 10 years in prison, Gargus claimed on appeal that the state had failed to prove that she knowingly caused harm to her mother.

Citing the D.C. Circuit's 1962 case Jones v. United States, the Eastern District of the Missouri Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction Tuesday.

Gargus was criminally liable because she had "'voluntarily assumed the care of another and so secluded the helpless person as to prevent others from rendering aid,'" Judge Gary Gaertner Jr. wrote for a three-member panel.

The ruling notes that those who did manage to visit the home disputed Gargus' testimony that she kept her mother generally uncovered.

A blanket covering Lorraine blocked visitors from observing any existing injuries, the panel found.

"A jury could infer from this testimony that Gargus covered victim when company was present," Gaertner wrote.

Though Lorraine also objected to doctors and hospitals, the court found that Linda's failure to take her mother "to the doctor for routine medical care or calling emergency services - especially considering that Gargus, as a nurse assistant, knew the danger victim's wounds presented - secluded her from medical help."

By her own testimony, Gargus was aware that her conduct would cause harm to her mother, the court found.

"Despite Gargus' admitted knowledge about the treatment of bedsores and her testimony that she bathed victim every day and saw victim's body daily, Gargus let the bedsores progress to Stage IV before calling for medical assistance," Gaertner wrote.

Additionally, "Gargus testified that victim stopped eating when her husband died on January 31, yet Gargus did not call for medical assistance until February 22," the ruling states. "Gargus cannot claim she did not know that lack of food and water for three weeks was certain to cause serious physical injury or harm to victim."

Citing a jury poll performed in the court room - at Gargus' request - in which each juror found her guilty of first-degree elder abuse, the court also declined to declare a mistrial based on the discovery of multiple signed jury verdict forms.

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