This week, the Washington State Court of Appeals affirmed the second degree felony murder conviction of Larry John Lee. Lee, 53, was convicted in 2016 of causing the death of Phillip Carter, 59, a developmentally disabled, vulnerable adult in Lee’s care.
This case was handled by the Elder Abuse Unit formed by Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist in 2011, and was tried by Deputy Prosecuting Attorneys Erika Nohavec and Bryce Nelson. Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Jim Schacht handled the appeal.
In his appeal, Lee argued the trial court erred in admitting his own incriminating statements, erred in admitting expert testimony, and that he received ineffective assistance of counsel. Lee also argued the prosecutor committed misconduct and that the culmination of these errors deprived him of a fair trial.
The court found neither error nor misconduct and affirmed Lee’s conviction.
“This is the first case in Washington where a caregiver was convicted of murder for neglecting a vulnerable adult,” said Lindquist.
On May 15, 2015, an ambulance took Carter to the hospital after Lee found him unresponsive. Hospital staff treated Carter for several large, deep pressure wounds. They told police it was the worst case of neglect they had ever seen. Carter had developed a serious infection from the wounds, which Lee had noticed a week earlier and packed with paper towels. Carter died several hours after arriving at the hospital. Doctors said Carter could have survived if he had received treatment earlier.
Carter lived at Lee’s residence for the last several years. Lee’s ex-wife was a nurse and they ran a licensed home care business. When she left, Lee failed to obtain a new license, but he continued to care for Carter. Lee received $850 per month to provide care services for Carter.
“Mr. Carter was disabled and could not care for himself,” Lindquist said. “Like all elders and vulnerable adults, Mr. Carter deserved proper care. Instead, he died from neglect.”
The Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office has become a leader in both the prosecution and prevention of elder abuse. Recently, Pierce County was one of only nine counties in the country to win an award from the Department of Justice of nearly $400,000 to support a comprehensive approach to addressing elder abuse. These funds are being used to coordinate a multi-disciplinary team, along with law enforcement agencies and victim service organizations, to increase and strengthen training, and form a community response team with the goal of protecting elders and other vulnerable adults.
“We are leading an effort to bring stakeholders together,” Lindquist said. “This will make our community safer for our most vulnerable citizens.”