Daughter of accused woman tells of neglect

Witness says invalid wasn't fed, bathed by her caregiver

February 02, 1999|By Dail Willis | Dail Willis,SUN STAFF

The daughter of a woman accused of starving a 66-year-old invalid to death and then leaving her decomposing body in a bedroom for more than a year testified yesterday that her mother ignored the dying woman's pleas for help.

Jeanetta Tolson testified during the first day of the trial of her mother, Patricia F. Thomas, 51, who is charged with first-degree murder, abuse of a vulnerable adult and two counts of theft in the death of Marion V. Cusimano.

Thomas, a former nursing home aide, was the primary caregiver for four years for Cusimano, who was crippled by multiple sclerosis.

Thomas wept as Tolson provided the picture of life in the small house at 215 Homberg Ave. in Essex, which Cusimano owned and shared with Thomas, Thomas' husband and mother, Tolson and Tolson's young daughter.

Thomas and Cusimano met at Ivy Hall Geriatric and Rehabilitation Center, where Cusimano was a patient and Thomas was an aide. The two became friendly, and Cusimano left the nursing home in 1993 to live with Thomas, who promised to care for her.

Tolson testified yesterday that Thomas did less and less for Cusimano -- she did not bathe her, did not change her colostomy bag and seldom fed her.

In February 1997, after Cusimano had been moaning in pain for hours, Tolson said Thomas told the bedridden woman to take Tylenol. When Cusimano said she could not and wanted to go to the hospital, Thomas became enraged, Tolson said.

"She said, `There's nothing the hell wrong with you' and she slammed the door," Tolson testified. "And I never heard Marion again."

Fourteen months later, police discovered Cusimano's body under a blanket after receiving a call from Thomas' husband, Ronald G. Thomas. An autopsy by the state medical examiner's office revealed that Cusimano died from malnutrition and failure to receive medical care for her multiple sclerosis.

In his opening statement yesterday, prosecutor James O. Gentry said the state would show that Thomas let Cusimano die of starvation and then continued to cash her checks.

Tolson and a Baltimore County detective testified that after Cusimano's death, Thomas continued to cash her pension and Social Security checks at an Essex liquor store, and Thomas had many credit cards in Cusimano's name.

In addition, Gentry said, Thomas forged power of attorney and fraudulently changed Cusimano's life insurance so Thomas, not Cusimano's estate, became the beneficiary.

Defense attorney Stephen L. Miles is expected to argue today that Cusimano's death was not a homicide.

Several witnesses who testified yesterday said that after moving to the house in Essex, Cusimano became isolated from friends and acquaintances. Cusimano's first cousin, Marie Martin, testified that when she visited, she was turned away from the door by Thomas or her daughter.

Leah Bark, an aide at the nursing home where Cusimano lived, testified that she kept in touch with Cusimano for a while but their weekly calls tapered off.

Cusimano rebuffed three attempts -- prompted by complaints to Baltimore County's Department of Social Services -- to ensure that she received the home health care she needed and was not being financially exploited, said Kelly Hale of the department.

Dr. Joel M. Cherry, a urologist who performed surgery on Cusimano after she left the nursing home, said that she didn't return for a necessary follow-up visit.

When the trial resumes today, prosecutors Gentry and Catherine C. O'Malley will call Dr. Dennis Chute of the state medical examiner's office, who performed the autopsy on Cusimano.

Pub Date: 2/02/99

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