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Date: September, 2008


DOCTOR: NEGLECT WAS CAUSE OF LIEBEN'S DEATH

 

Frances Ann Donohue admitted to investigators she had been negligent in the care of her ailing mother-in-law for a period of time before her death.

 

Just how lax she was became apparent to the jury Wednesday morning in the York County Judicial Center when the commonwealth presented a series of autopsy photos showing the bedsores, skin ulcerations and dirt-encrusted fingernails and toenails on Bernadette Leiben's body.

 

Formerly from Maryland, Donohue, 62, and her husband and Leiben's son, William J. Donohue, 73, are on trial charged with first- and third-degree murder and conspiracy in connection with Leiben's death on May 20, 2004, in their Mitchell Road home in Airville. The commonwealth maintains the couple neglected the 87-year-old bedridden woman to the point of death after moving to York County in 2003.

 

Wednesday, during the second day of testimony, Dr. Saralee Funke, the pathologist who performed the autopsy on Leiben, identified the multiple wounds on the dead woman's body.

 

While alive, Leiben suffered five deep areas of ulceration on both heels, her left knee and her right arm, Funke said. Skin and tissue on her heels had decayed as the result of pressure sores or bed sores, she said.

 

The wounds to the left heel and the knee went to the bone, she said. The other major ulcerations went into the muscle tissue, she said.

 

Funke confirmed Pennsylvania State Police and county coroner reports that maggots were found in the deep wounds.

 

Leiben's body also revealed a clearly defined line between the front of her body and the lesser ulcerations on her back and neck. Funke said it appeared Leiben had lain in a "caustic substance" for a period of time to produce the ulcerations.

 

She said the sores were the result of poor hygiene, lying in a liquid such as urine and being unable to move in bed.

 

Funke also determined Leiben had infections of the kidneys and spleen and a severe inflammation of the esophagus.

 

She said the combination of the infections and ulcerations resulted in sepsis, or bacteria in the bloodstream.

 

Funke told the jury that none of her findings individually would have been fatal if Leiben had received appropriate medical care.

 

Prosecutor Tim Barker called Funke, Leiben's Maryland doctor, and the nursing director of a Maryland long-term care facility to establish that Leiben's medical and health care stopped when the Donohues took responsibility for it.

 

Dr. Rolando Viada said he had not seen Leiben for a year before she died. He said Frances Donohue had brought Leiben in for regular visits up until May 2003 for back and thyroid problems.

 

Parker is expected to call similar witnesses Thursday.

 

For the defense, Thomas L. Kearney III, Frances Donohue's attorney, has challenged the commonwealth's contention that Leiben's death was intentional. In his opening remarks, he said he will call an expert witness to testify Leiben's most serious illness and the cause of her death was flesh-eating bacteria.

 

William Donohue's attorney, Rick Robinson, has maintained his client simply was not involved in Leiben's care, a chore he left to his wife while he worked on the couple's 32-acre horse farm.

 

AT A GLANCE

 

The victim: Bernadette Leiben, 87, formerly of Baltimore, died May 20, 2004, in a home in Airville she shared with her son and daughter-in-law. An investigation determined the bed-ridden woman died of multiple infections brought on by neglect.

 

The accused: Leiben's son, William J. Donohue, 73, and her daughter-in-law, Frances Ann Donohue, 62, were arrested March 14, 2007, after a three-year interstate investigation and were charged with murder and conspiracy.

 

The trial: The pathologist who performed the autopsy identified the multiple ulcerations on the woman's body and said she determined Leiben had infections of the kidneys, spleen and esophagus. She said the combined ailments resulted in sepsis, or bacteria in the bloodstream.

 

 

 
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