Woman guilty of manslaughter for neglect of terminally ill ex

WARNING: Graphic A woman promised to care for her ex after he became terminally ill. The condition he was found in shocked everyone. Read on the Geelong Advertiser.

Picture: The following story published in Sydney’s the Daily Telegraph

When a police officer saw cancer patient Jonathan Young at Hawkesbury Hospital in October 2012, she was shocked.

She’d seen people in his condition but “they’d been dead for many months”, Senior Constable Rebekah Barlow told a court.

Mr Young, 58, had a full-body lice infestation, pressure ulcers so severe the bone was showing in one, and pus-filled wounds up his spine.

He was severely malnourished. Health care workers observed dried faeces all over his legs.

He died on October 16, 2012, 11 days after being admitted to hospital, following months in the care of his ex-partner, Libby Baker.

On Friday Ms Baker was found guilty of manslaughter through criminal neglect in the Sydney District Court by Judge Deborah Sweeney.

The 42-year-old appeared in court over videolink from what appeared to be her home, sitting in front of sun-lit purple curtains.

She covered her mouth, breathing heavily, and wiped her eyes after the verdict was announced.

When applying for a carer’s payment in March 2011, Ms Baker told Centrelink she was volunteering to care for Mr Young because “I couldn’t let him go to a nursing home”.

Mr Young required arterial surgery on his right leg in January 2011; renal cancer was detected in January 2012 which metastasised to his liver and a kidney; and he had three strokes between January 2012 and the days before his death on October 16, 2012.

Three experts found his cause of death to be a combination of cancer, his third stroke, vulnerability from malnutrition, and his gangrenous pressure sores.

The court heard evidence Ms Baker was aware of her duties when he was discharged from hospital into her care on May 7, 2012 – including an obligation to seek medical help if she could not manage the task.

She was warned the terminally ill, bed-bound man needed to be turned regularly, showered, fed soft foods and diet supplements, and kept hydrated with glasses of water.

He was not able to speak after his stroke and was “highly dependent” on Ms Baker, Judge Sweeney said.

But when a community services worker visited the home on October 5, she walked into the smell of faeces and rotten flesh, she told the court.

Mr Young’s skin was “hanging from his bones”, his eyes were sunken and his body was covered in dark legions, she said.

She told Ms Baker to call an ambulance or she would call the police.

He was admitted to hospital that day – despite Ms Baker yelling at the worker to “get out”.

Hawkesbury Hospital nurse Keri Laurence told the court that when Mr Young arrived at hospital he showed signs of severe dehydration and was “very, very hungry”.

The presence of lice all over his body, including in crawling balls under his armpits, suggested he had not been showered properly in weeks.

His appetite suggested his weight loss – from about 62 kilograms to about 35 kilograms in six months – was not solely due to cancer, experts said.

Nurse Narelle Artz told the court “of her palliative patients over the years, she had not ever seen anyone like that”.

Another nurse who treated him after admission put it more bluntly: “He looked dead” she told the court.

Ms Baker is a former aged care worker and a former receptionist at Windsor Family Practice GP clinic.

When police asked her why she didn’t seek medical attention when Mr Young’s condition was deteriorating, she told them, “What can they do that I can’t?”

Judge Sweeney said Ms Baker had breached her duty of care to the degree required to be found criminally negligent.

“I am satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the accused’s omissions in not providing Mr Young with sufficient food and hygiene, pressure wound care and medical attention, which caused his death … involve a high degree of criminal negligence and merit criminal punishment,” she said.

She will be sentenced in September.

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