Archive for Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Defense targets medical advice in death

Attorney alleges defendant told ‘just let him go’ in elderly father’s treatment

August 27, 2003


A lawyer on Tuesday said that a medical decision -- not a murder -- ended the life of a Lawrence senior citizen whose son is now charged with murder by neglect.

During a preliminary hearing in Douglas County District Court, defendant Timothy Harrell's attorney said that doctors told Harrell it would be a good idea to stop aggressive medical treatment at Lawrence Memorial Hospital and let 84-year-old Henry Harrell die. The elder Harrell died Nov. 20, nearly two weeks after being admitted to the hospital with infected bedsores, malnourishment and dehydration.

Defense attorney Greg Robinson said doctors initially gave the elder Harrell antibiotics that improved his condition -- but that they stopped after consulting with family members, including his son.

"The death resulted from that lack of aggressive (action) that they had initially taken," Robinson told Judge Michael Malone. "At some point in time, doctors approached the family and said, 'Just let him go.'"

Robinson also questioned whether it was normal for doctors to go to a senior citizen's family member for input on medical decisions if they suspected the same family member of neglect or mistreatment. The elder Harrell was suffering from dementia and was incapable of caring for himself, doctors have testified.

"It wouldn't necessarily be uncommon to turn to the individual who is the suspect to ... make decisions?" Robinson asked Daniel Swagerty, a geriatrician and associate professor at KU Med in Kansas City, Kan.

"I think that would be unusual," Swagerty said.

Janice Early-Weas, a spokeswoman for Lawrence Memorial Hospital, said officials there declined comment on the specifics of the case or on procedures relating to the case.

Prosecutors allege Timothy Harrell, a window washer and maintenance man, unintentionally killed his father by withholding necessary care for more than a year. The family lived at Hampton Court Apartments near 24th and Iowa streets.

Robinson has served notice that he might hire an expert psychologist to determine whether Harrell's limited intellectual ability caused him to make false admissions to police during a seven-hour interview. At times during the interview, a Lawrence Police detective yelled at Harrell when he answered questions by saying "I don't know," Officer William Cory testified Tuesday.

Cory also testified that Harrell told police he didn't bring his father to the hospital sooner because "he became scared and thought he'd get in trouble."

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