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Appeals court asked to review penalty in bedsore death

December 25, 2018

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A state appeals court has been asked to review a Baton Rouge woman’s 40-year sentence in the 2014 bedsore-related death of her elderly mother.

The Advocate reports an attorney for Joleslie Looney says the maximum time allowed for manslaughter is cruel and unusual punishment and not justified.

Louisiana Appellate Project lawyer Bertha Hillman contends in documents filed at the 1st Circuit Court of Appeal in Baton Rouge that the lengthy prison term meted out by state District Judge Mike Erwin is excessive for a 57-year-old woman and is essentially a life sentence.

“Ms. Looney’s 40-year sentence makes no meaningful contribution to acceptable goals of punishment and is nothing more than a purposeless and needless imposition of pain and suffering,” Hillman argues.

East Baton Rouge Parish Assistant District Attorney Allison Rutzen’s arguments, however, focuses on the “ghastly condition” of Bessie Looney when she died and the pain and suffering she endured.

Rutzen noted the elderly woman weighed just 82 pounds — down from 130 pounds in April 2013 — when she was found slumped over in a filthy wheelchair in her fly-infested home with only a dressing gown draped over her head. She was strapped into the chair at the waist, and a large wound on the right side of her body leaked “thick, green mucus.”

“When the Coroner’s Office removed the strap to get the decedent out of the wheelchair, a large chunk of her skin came off with the strap,” Rutzen wrote.

Dr. William “Beau” Clark, the East Baton Rouge Parish coroner, classified Bessie Looney’s death a homicide, saying she died from a blood infection caused by severely infected bedsores. He also determined malnutrition, dementia and heart disease contributed to her death.

Authorities said Joleslie Looney and her daughter, Lauren Looney, 21, were Bessie Looney’s primary caregivers. The mother and daughter told police they were aware of Bessie Looney’s condition but said it didn’t appear severe to them, according to an affidavit of probable cause.

Lauren Looney pleaded guilty to negligent homicide and was sentenced to five years in prison. She was 17 when her grandmother died in their home.

Hillman contends Joleslie Looney was suffering from depression and stress when she was caring for her mother, and was overwhelmed.

“Joleslie had limited resources and the necessary skills to deal with the situation. Her mother was becoming increasingly weaker and demented, and she did not have a car, making it difficult for her to obtain proper medical treatment for Bessie,” Hillman argues in the appeal.

Rutzen, though, points to what she termed Joleslie Looney’s “complete inaction with respect to her mother.”

“Admittedly, (Joleslie Looney) presented herself as a somewhat depressed and overwhelmed individual who had taken on more responsibility than she could handle. However, she brought her mother into the situation and refused to ask for help, in spite of the many people who testified that they could have provided help if asked,” the prosecutor wrote in her argument.

Rutzen described Joleslie Looney’s sentence as appropriate, justified, proper and proportionate.

Hillman vehemently disagreed.

“This case helps only to solidify Louisiana’s unflattering position as the poster child for imprisonment and as the incarceration capital of the world,” she said.

The 1st Circuit’s website indicates Chief Judge Vanessa Whipple and Judges Page McClendon and Toni Higginbotham will decide the case based on the written arguments filed by Hillman and Rutzen.

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Information from: The Advocate, http://theadvocate.com

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