The Georgia Supreme Court has upheld the murder conviction and life sentence of a man who helped discharge his girlfriend's elderly mother from a nursing home in order to regain control of her Social Security income and then was a party to appalling neglect that resulted in the elderly woman's death. Wood v. State (Ga., No. S05A0839, Sept. 26, 2005).
Troy Wood and his girlfriend, Rita Rene Dorlon, lived together with their two children. Both unemployed, Mr. Wood and Ms. Dorlon were living mainly off the Social Security checks of Ms. Dorlon's elderly mother, Mary Green, who was being cared for in a nursing home. This income suddenly disappeared, however, when the nursing home began receiving the Social Security checks directly. In order to regain control over the checks, Mr. Wood and Ms. Dorlon removed Mrs. Green from the nursing facility, claiming they would care for her in their own home. Mrs. Green was discharged against her will and despite the fact that she was confined to a bed or a wheelchair, was incontinent, and had complicated care requirements.
Ms. Wood and Dorlon failed to care for Mrs, Green, allowing her to lie in her bed without moving until she developed serious bed-sores and infections, including gangrenous ulcers. (We will spare readers all the gruesome details, which are amply documented in the court ruling referenced below.) On August 30, 2003, a paramedic found Mrs. Green dead in the home. Mr. Wood and Ms. Dorlon were charged with murder and cruelty to an elderly person. Ms. Dorlon pled guilty and a jury found Mr. Wood guilty. He was sentenced to life imprisonment.
Mr. Wood was charged under a Georgia law that makes it a crime to fail to provide health care and sustenance to an elderly person over whom one has supervision or "immediate charge or custody." Mr. Wood appealed, arguing that he did not commit a crime because he never assumed responsibility to care for Mrs. Green.
The Supreme Court of Georgia rejects Mr. Wood's appeal. Although the court finds there is conflicting evidence about the extent of care Mr. Wood agreed to undertake, he actively participated in the decision to bring Mrs. Green into his home and knowingly agreed to place her under the charge and in the custody of Ms. Dorlon and himself. He therefore had a duty to care for Mrs. Green, a duty which, the court notes, he "wholly failed in".