Charges reduced for Port Townsend residents during trial on woman’s death

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — Second-degree manslaughter charges against two Port Townsend residents after the death of a 77-year-old woman in April have been reduced to criminal mistreatment, interrupting a trial in progress.

Richard M. Huber, 57, and Betty June Haley, 71, pleaded guilty to the charges Monday, which carry a recommended sentence of between six months and one year.

Huber and Haley were arrested Aug. 9 in Port Townsend and were accused of neglecting Huber’s mother, Kathleen Johnson of Marrowstone Island, and contributing to her death April 18.

Trial had begun April 7 on charges for second degree manslaughter, first degree theft and second degree criminal mistreatment, all under the domestic violence category.

Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney Scott Rosekrans proposed the reduction on Friday.

He said he originally had proposed a plea for reduced manslaughter charges which the defendants declined, leading to the trial.

After two days of testimony, Rosekrans felt that he had proven criminal mistreatment but was unsure whether he could gain a manslaughter conviction, leading to the reduced plea.

Sentencing is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. May 16 in Superior Court, 1820 Jefferson St.

Rosekrans plans to advocate a one-year sentence while the defense attorneys — Noah Harrison for Huber and Ben Critchlow for Haley — could argue for less, he said.

Superior Court Judge Keith Harper could impose stiffer sentences of up to 41 months if he felt that special circumstances were warranted.

Sentences will be served in the Jefferson County jail and not in prison, Rosekrans said.

“We had a strong case, and we had some devastating testimony coming up,” Rosekrans said.

“But we decided the defendants didn’t belong in prison.

“They were overwhelmed by having to take care of a patient and didn’t have the resources.”

Said Harrison: “It’s very difficult to deal with someone who has advanced dementia, telling someone to drink, eat or move when they don’t want to do any of those things.

“They did their best in this situation. Unfortunately, their best fell far short of what was needed.”

According to a probable-cause statement filed with the court, Huber and Haley had moved in with Johnson in October 2012 following the death of her husband, Ray Johnson.

On April 14, 2013, Huber brought her into the emergency room at Jefferson Healthcare hospital.

Hospital personnel contacted the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, saying Johnson wore soiled clothing, her hair was matted and her knees were stained with dried blood.

During a subsequent investigation, Jefferson County Sheriff’s Detective Barb Garrett said she found that Huber had removed $20,000 from Johnson’s bank accounts shortly after Ray Johnson died.

Garrett said Johnson had suffered “a rapid decline into dementia” after her husband died and that Haley, who would “push and yell at” Johnson, was executing control over Huber.

“I thought we had put on a good case so far but the jury saw things a different way,” Rosekrans said.

“Some of them said that Huber was overwhelmed, he didn’t know what he was taking on, and they said that no son would intentionally do this, although manslaughter isn’t intentional,” he added.

Rosekrans said the jury included a retired doctor and several people who had served as holders of power of attorney and that the rest of the jury would have turned to those jurors for guidance.

“In a lot of these cases, elderly people take a turn for the worse in a hurry, so the facts can be harder to determine,” he said.

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Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or cbermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: April 15. 2014 6:32PM
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