Sep 29, 2009

Alzheimer's Reading Room in the News--The Elley Lorey Trial

As many of you know, I followed the Elley Lorey Alzheimer's murder trial closely. The trial took place about 17 miles from me in West Palm Beach.

Susan Spencer-Wendel, the Palm Beach Post, called me after the trial to get my reaction (tip of the hat to Susan).
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'Shock and disgust' the overwhelming reaction among caregivers to West Boca Alzheimer's death case

By SUSAN SPENCER-WENDEL

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Bob Demarco has his finger square on the pulse of the ever-growing community of people suffering Alzheimer's disease and the caregivers who struggle with them.

Demarco, 59, of Delray Beach, runs alzheimersreadingroom.com, a site that compiles news, advice and insight on the illness.

He paid close attention to a trial earlier this month of a suburban Boca Raton couple charged with first-degree murder in the alleged starvation death of the woman's 89-year-old mother with Alzheimer's.

Elly Lorey's daughter, Kerstin Fenn, and husband Toby stood accused of the most severe crime after not seeking medical care for Lorey in the year before she died, as she withered to a skeleton covered in skin, dying in a feces-smeared room of the couple's home, claw marks on the walls.

Prosecutors argued that the Fenns tired of the inconvenience to their lives and caused Lorey's death by withholding food, water and care.

Defense attorneys countered that Lorey lost weight despite eating, that the Fenns did the best they could to manage an unmanageable disease, and they did so to honor Lorey's wish to remain at home.

Did the trial — believed to be one of the nation's first holding Alzheimer's caregivers criminally responsible — leave other caregivers worried they may face charges for their actions?

Demarco doesn't think so. The universal response he heard from users of his Web site was "mostly shock and disgust" at the lack of care the Fenns provided.

"I didn't have anybody send me an e-mail or write anything that could be described as empathy," he said.

The trial itself was an extraordinary duel of doctors, with some of the top national experts on Alzheimer's consulted or testifying. Dr. Peter Rabins, a Johns Hopkins psychiatrist and co-director of the school's division of geriatric and neuropsychiatry, is author of a popular guide for Alzheimer's caregivers, The 36-Hour Day.

Rabins testified that he'd never come across a case of such severe abuse and neglect in the thousands of people he's cared for.

Dr. Peter Whitehouse, a Case Western Reserve neurologist and author also consulted by prosecutors, said the trial came at a critical time as the number of elderly soar and with them the number of Alzheimer's and dementia cases. "These are human beings who deserve the protection of the law as well," Whitehouse said.

Whitehouse said he hopes the trial will be looked to as an example in education sessions and discussions of care. The Fenns, he said, "made the huge mistake of doing it alone."

Behind the considerable resources prosecutors devoted to the case — more than $55,000 spent on experts alone — was State Attorney Michael McAuliffe identifying it as a key case. His office prosecuted it as part of his commitment to protecting society's most vulnerable victims, including the elderly, he said.

"I never viewed it as an Alzheimer's case," McAuliffe said. "I viewed as people doing things to an elder loved one which never should have been done."

In the end, though, the verdict rested with a 12-member jury. And to them, the case was not clear cut at all.

Each had varying opinions as to whether Lorey's death was a murder, a manslaughter or no crime at all, said juror Debra Eagleton of Lake Worth.

Their 12-hour deliberation ended in doors slamming, angry words, and one juror sticking in the face of a man who believed the couple innocent a photo of Lorey's skeletal corpse, saying "I hope your mother ends up like that one day," the man recalled.

Jurors reached a compromise verdict to avoid a mistrial, rejecting a first-degree murder conviction which could have sent the Fenns to prison for life, and settling on a misdemeanor conviction of culpable negligence. They also convicted the Fenns of a felony charge, abuse of the elderly, for which they were sentenced to five years in prison.

It's a decision which now haunts Eagleton.

Days after the verdict, she said she couldn't get the the photos of Lorey's corpse out of her mind.

Toby Fenn told a sheriff's detective he sometimes found Lorey splayed out beside her bed, struggling to get up.

Eagleton said she awoke at night thinking of how she put railings up on her childrens' beds to keep them from falling out. Why did the Fenns not take such simple precautions? she asked herself. "It haunts me that I didn't force myself to go higher — to manslaughter," Eagleton said.

The Fenns' chief defense attorney, Michael Salnick, said the verdict reaction he's heard is that it's not only a victory for the Fenns, but a victory for caregivers who honor their loved one's wish to die at home.

"It was clear. [Elly Lorey] told her sons and family she never wanted to die in a facility. She wanted to die at home."

The Fenns ended up financially and emotionally devastated by the case, Salnick said.

McAuliffe took no umbrage with the verdict, saying he is respectful of jury decisions.

"If it triggers a good discussion on the issues, then it serves the public good," McAuliffe said.

And the Fenns' case will sharpen for prosecutors the cases yet to come.

"And there will be a next one," McAuliffe said.

Find this article at:
http://www.palmbeachpost.com/news/content/local_news/epaper/2009/09/26/0926fenn.html

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Bob DeMarco is the editor of the Alzheimer's Reading Room and an Alzheimer's caregiver. The Alzheimer's Reading Room is the number one website on the Internet for news, advice, and insight into Alzheimer's disease. Bob has written more than 800 articles with more than 18,000 links on the Internet. Bob resides in Delray Beach, FL.
Original content Bob DeMarco, Alzheimer's Reading Room