Son, 43, pleads guilty in parental neglect case Sentencing delayed until after brother's trial

November 19, 1997|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

A Pasadena man admitted yesterday in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court that he let his sick mother's health deteriorate so badly that her bedsores were infested with maggots.

In an unusual criminal prosecution of parental neglect, John W. Phelps, 43, pleaded guilty to one count of neglect of an elderly or vulnerable person between January and May. In exchange, prosecutors dropped two charges.

Judge Clayton R. Greene will not set a sentencing date until after Phelps testifies against his brother, who is to be tried on identical charges. No trial date has been set for Ronald L. Phelps, 44.

County prosecutors said they could not recall another case in which criminal charges were brought against a family member for abuse or neglect of an elderly parent -- misdemeanor charges that were broadened under changes to state law in 1995. The maximum penalty is a $5,000 fine or five years in prison.

Nancy Cohen, the assistant public defender representing John Phelps, says she will ask for a sentence of time served. He has been in jail since June.

"I think that as the older population increases, you are going to see more and more of this stuff," said Cohen.

Figures for adult abuse in Maryland were not readily available yesterday. But reports of mistreatment and neglect of disabled and elderly people are no longer unusual, said Susan C. Seling, state director of the Department of Human Resources' Office of Adult and Family Services. She described the reports as "becoming more horrendous."

"It's not that unusual to hear of this kind of thing," she said. "The unusual piece here is the charges being brought. Usually when you hear about charges being brought, it is a [paid] caregiver, often in a nursing facility."

Nationally, 1.8 million cases of abuse of the elderly and disabled are reported each year. But only 1 in 14 cases is reported to a public agency, according to the American Medical Association.

"Many of the referrals we receive are, in fact, of children who are caregivers of their parents, or elder aunts or uncles, and have been abusive, either verbally or physically," Seling said.

John Phelps was supposed to be taking care of his 71-year-old mother, Esther Phelps, in their home in the 1100 block of Mount Drive. Ronald Phelps, of the 7700 block of Locust Grove Court, Glen Burnie, was supposed to help and handle their mother's income and finances.

Their mother, who now lives in a nursing home, has Alzheimer's and was combative, said Cohen.

On May 27, when a third son, Larry Phelps of Cambridge, visited, he found their mother having trouble breathing. She was lying in bed in feces and mites, with maggots in her numerous bedsores, said Assistant State's Attorney Frank Ragione.

Larry Phelps called for an ambulance. North Arundel Hospital workers found that she was "dehydrated and had not eaten in a while," Ragione said.

He said John Phelps told investigators that his brother in Glen Burnie had promised to get help for their mother, but did not.

Ragione declined to discuss details of Ronald Phelps' case.

Pub Date: 11/19/97

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