Woman gets 3 years in neglect killing

With year already served, parole could be in month

April 08, 1999|By Dail Willis | Dail Willis,SUN STAFF

An Essex woman convicted of manslaughter after a disabled woman in her care died of neglect and malnutrition was sentenced yesterday to three years in prison -- a decision her lawyer called "a gift."

Patricia Thomas, 51, who has served almost a year in jail, could be paroled as early as next month, said her attorney, Stephen L. Miles. She was indicted after the mummified corpse of Marion V. Cusimano was discovered in the house Cusimano shared with Thomas, her husband and her daughter.

"She is relieved," Miles said. "That was a gift -- she'll probably be out in less than a month. It's a bizarre, sad case."

Thomas was convicted in February of manslaughter, abuse of a vulnerable adult and two counts of theft in the death of Cusimano, 66, who left a nursing home to move in with the family in 1993.

Cusimano, a retired Westinghouse worker, owned the house on Homberg Avenue in Essex where her body was found last April. She died more than a year before her body was discovered, but Thomas didn't report it. Instead, she cashed the dead woman's monthly pension checks during that time -- nearly $24,000 in all.

Baltimore County Circuit Judge John Grason Turnbull II heard brief statements before announcing his decision.

"I'm sorry for what I done," a weeping Thomas told the court.

Miles called one witness to speak on her behalf.

"Her life is very shattered, but I believe there are still redeeming qualities in her life," said the Rev. Bruce D. Craig, pastor of Middle River Assembly of God Church.

Thomas began attending services there in September 1997, Craig said, and appeared to want to put her spiritual life in order.

"I noticed some peculiar things about Pat," he said. "She wept during the services."

In April of last year, he said, Thomas had a spiritual breakthrough during an "altar call" when individual parishioners approach the altar for prayers.

"It just happened to be the very same week that things came out in the open," Craig said.

During the trial, Thomas' daughter painted a macabre, bizarre portrait of life in the house. Cusimano had multiple sclerosis and, as the disease progressed, she became more dependent on Thomas, the daughter testified.

But Thomas neglected Cusimano, who could not eat, go to the bathroom or bathe without assistance, the daughter said, and she ignored the disabled woman's pleas for help the night of her death -- a fact underscored by prosecutors.

"I think this is a particularly disturbing case because of the circumstances -- an elderly woman died in a closed bedroom, alone," prosecutor James O. Gentry Jr. told Turnbull. "She died that night crying for help -- and this defendant ignored those cries."

Gentry recommended the maximum sentence of 45 years. But the judge said he was not sure how to resolve such a troubling case.

"I am not Solomon, and I have no idea what the appropriate sentence would be," Turnbull said.

"The doctor indicates that she is not perceived to be a threat to society," he said, referring to a presentence psychiatric evaluation of Thomas. "She does have some problems. They certainly contributed to the nightmare that this case has wrought."

He sentenced Thomas to eight years on the manslaughter charge, with all but three suspended. On each of the other three charges, the sentence was five years, with all but three suspended.

He ordered all four sentences to run concurrently, meaning that Thomas could serve no more than three years in prison.

He also added five years of supervised probation and ordered Thomas not to have contact with any vulnerable adults.

Turnbull told her to repay the Social Security Administration and an insurance company money she took by forging Cusimano's signature on pension checks.

Pub Date: 4/08/99

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