Heskett trial: Defendant takes the stand, testifies about his closeness to man he’s accused of killing
The 49-year-old Eudora man accused of murdering one of his home health care clients took the stand Monday and described his “close” relationship with the man whom he claims to have helped commit suicide.
Jurors heard Ronald Eugene Heskett tell police in a recorded interview last week that he twisted a bath towel around Vance “Van” Moulton’s neck on Sept. 12, 2014, and tucked it under Moulton’s body, asphyxiating the disabled Lawrence man until he died. Heskett told police the act occurred after months of daily requests from Moulton to “shoot him.”
On Monday, Heskett told jurors about his friendship with Moulton, 66, indicating their closeness went further than a worker-client relationship. For example, Heskett said he’d visited Moulton at the hospital after kidney surgeries in the spring of 2014 without pay, and also cooked Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners for Moulton.
“He confided in me quite a bit. I confided in him,” Heskett said. “If he needed something, he knew that he could count on me to help him.”
Moulton had cerebral palsy, leaving his legs and left arm immobile and his right arm with limited dexterity. Confined to a wheelchair, Moulton relied on care attendants for everything from bathing to getting out of bed.
Heskett testified that Moulton’s outlook on life changed in the months leading up to his death. Heskett said Moulton grew increasingly concerned about his housing situation after an altercation between a former care attendant and his apartment manager. Moulton reportedly felt the manager had the care attendant fired, and Moulton had liked his care attendant.
“When I first started working, (Moulton) was out and friendly,” Heskett said. “He was withdrawn after (the other care attendant) was terminated.
“He (got) really depressed and wouldn’t ever open his window because he didn’t even want to hear people talk (outside),” Heskett said. “I would go in the kitchen and come back out and he would be crying.”
In March and April 2014, Heskett said, Moulton had two surgeries on one of his kidneys. Moulton had previously had his other kidney removed, and Heskett said Moulton was worried he’d lose his remaining kidney as well. Heskett said this made Moulton “stressed” that he may lose his independence and have to live in a nursing home.
“He worried about the dialysis machine if he lost a kidney,” Heskett said. “He knew he’d lose his ability to (figuratively) run around if he was on dialysis.”
That’s about the time when Moulton began talking about having Heskett kill him, Heskett said.
“He would tell me when I got in in the morning I might as well just shoot him in the head,” Heskett said. “Later in the day he’d say, ‘I wish you’d just shoot me.'”
Heskett said he had mentioned the suicidal comments once to one of Moulton’s friends and another time to his Trinity In-Home Care supervisors. He also tried to have Moulton call a suicide hotline, but Heskett said he didn’t push the matter because he was afraid Moulton would stop his services if he did.
“If I got a therapist for him, he was going to have Trinity quit providing care workers,” Heskett said. “He thought that if somebody would come in and talk to him, the next step would be he’d get shipped off to a nursing home.”
Occupational therapist Megan Roelofs also testified Monday that independent living was important to Moulton and that he was unhappy living at his apartment complex. She said she worked with Moulton once or twice a week beginning when Moulton was released from a brief stay at a nursing home in early 2013.
“Van was bummed out and depressed about his situation,” Roelofs said. “(Moulton) never wanted to do anything that might jeopardize his independent living and being released into a nursing home.”
Roelofs said that she heard Moulton say things like, “I’m so mad” and “I’m sick of all this” in reference to his living situation. Roelofs said she had recently sought assistance from social workers to help him find a new place to live, but Heskett said the process didn’t move quickly enough to satisfy Moulton.
Roelofs said that on one occasion Moulton was upset about housing issues when Heskett told her in front of Moulton that Moulton “was asking for a gun this morning.” But when Roelofs inquired further, she said that Moulton “shut it down” and “laughed it off.”
Neighbor Helena Charron also testified Monday about Moulton’s attitude change in the months leading up to his death. When she’d first met him in 2013, she said Moulton was charismatic and upbeat. But after his kidney hospitalizations, things changed, she testified.
“After (his hospitalization), I wouldn’t see him out much. He was withdrawn and skinny,” Charron said.
One time, Moulton told Charron, “I just don’t want to be here. I just want to die,” Charron said.
However, several of Moulton’s friends, like former care attendant Ulysses Demby, testified Monday morning that they didn’t believe Moulton was ever suicidal.
“I read in the paper that Vance had asked (Heskett) to help him commit suicide and God put it on my heart to call the police,” Demby said. “He showed no signs (of suicidal tendencies).”
Keith Slimmer, a friend and former college roommate of Moulton’s, also testified that he did not think Moulton was suicidal.
“I have never known (Moulton) to be depressed,” Slimmer said. “He was very glad to be out of the nursing home and have an apartment of his own.”
Testimony is scheduled to continue Tuesday. Heskett remains in Douglas County Jail on $500,000 bond.