PRINCETON — A Lerona woman, who was scheduled to be sentenced Thursday on a charge of financially exploiting an elderly person after entering a “best interest” plea in April, will now stand trail.
Judge Derek Swope rejected the plea, which is similar to a “no contest plea,” of Mary H. Williams, 75, because Williams spoke during the sentencing and denied she did anything wrong.
Swope, who was set to make a decision on sentencing, said he had no choice but to send the case to trial.
In April, Williams entered the best interest plea in a case that involved a Princeton man, Harold DeWeese, who is now deceased.
Assistant Prosecutor Kelli Harshbarger at that time said it is called a best interest plea “because they are not admitting guilt, just saying it is in their best interest under the circumstances not to contest the charge,” which carries a penalty of one to 10 years in jail plus restitution.
Swope asked Williams directly in April if she were entering the plea because she realized if the case went to trial, the consequences could be worse (than a plea agreement) if she were found guilty, and she agreed.
Harshbarger outlined the case in April, saying Williams was hired as a caregiver to DeWeese and his wife in 2009 when he was 88.
DeWeese’s wife was eventually placed in an assisted living facility and during that time she noticed money was missing from the couple’s account.
Shortly after that, Harshbarger said, the evidence would show that DeWeese divorced his wife and received about $400,000 from the division of marital assets. It was also thought that DeWeese may have been suffering from dementia.
Harshbarger said the evidence would show that, during this time, DeWeese had little or no contact with his children, and that he had moved into Williams’ home.
The family attempted to obtain guardianship because of the possibility of dementia. However, she said the evidence would show that court papers could not be served because Williams said DeWeese was ill.
DeWeese died in 2013, and Harshbarger said the state’s evidence would show that he died and was buried on Williams’ property without his family’s knowledge, and he was listed as having no assets.
An investigation was started more than two years ago by State Police Sgt. Mark Haynes. Williams was indicted in October 2015.
“The focus of the investigation was on a bank account that had over $160,000,” Harshbarger said. “From that they were able to trace the purchase of a doublewide” that was placed on Williams’ property.
Sentencing was set for June but was eventually moved to Thursday, when several of Deweese’s family members chronicled what had happened to him and how he had been treated by Williams.
They all asked that Williams be incarcerated and not be allowed to ever care for an elderly person.
Debbie Toler, DeWeese’s daughter, told Swope that sometime between 2005 and 2008 they hired Williams to help her mother, who was ill, at night.
“We rarely saw her (Williams),” she said. “I was glad to have constant care for my parents as my dad’s mental health was beginning to decline as well. My mother’s mental capacity was never compromised.”
But during this time, Toler said Williams “brainwashed” her father and convinced him to move in with her.
“She then prevented him from having contact with me, all his family, church friends, and other friends, and removed him from all his doctors’ care,” she said. “It is hard to describe the traumatic impact this had on me and our family after having enjoyed such a close relationship with my dad all my life.”
Toler said her father’s thinking capacity at 90 had already started to decline.
“Her goal was to conspire to convert as many of his assets as she could to her own use.” Tyler said of Williams. “To accomplish this, she convinced my dad that his family was only interested in his money.
She also convinced him that we didn’t care about him and wanted to put him in a nursing home and that he had to divorce my mother, whom he had been married to for 64 years, in order to secure his assets.”
Toler said Williams moved him to her house and then would not allow her to talk to him or see him.
“This caused tremendous anguish for me as I was not able to know how my dad was doing, and see him, much less have a relationship with him like I always had,” she said.
Toler said Williams told her father’s doctors and the funeral home director in Hinton after he died that he had been abandoned by his family 10 years ago.
“Mary intentionally destroyed my parents’ marriage of 64 years, my relationship with my dad, his relationship with his grandkids and great-grandkids and his relationship with all his friends and extended family,” she said. “We were robbed of a wonderful legacy and many more precious memories that would have occurred in his final years had Mary not entered our lives. Nothing can replace what we have lost through all this.”
Toler requested that the court require Williams to also pay to have her father’s body moved from Williams’ property to the grave beside her mother.
“I have been plagued with repetitive dreams about my dad and had to relive this nightmare over and over in my mind for the past few years,” she said. “I believe she should be incarcerated. Mary Williams has never expressed remorse to me for her actions.”
Alyson Dolan, granddaughter of DeWeese, told Swope that “Williams conspired to separate myself and my family from my grandpa to bring about financial gain for herself.”
“Mary was ruthless in her pursuit of my grandparents’ assets, and had no mercy as she devastated his and our lives,” she said. “He was a precious man, as anyone who knew him would say, and I adored him.”
But Dolan said he disappeared from their lives.
“Once she moved him to her home on Bent Mountain, he was her prisoner,” she said, adding that she called Williams’ home on many occasions and asked to speak to him, but was denied.
“Mary robbed my grandpa and me of our relationship,” she said.
Dolan later looked directly at Williams and said, “You came in and brainwashed a 90- year-old man with dementia, shattered his beautiful life and exploited him for his last 4 years of life. I choose to forgive you, but because you have shown no remorse I also want you to pay for your crimes.”
Swope asked the family’s attorney, Robert Holroyd, if the family had ever tried to go to court to be able to have access to DeWeese and get him out of her home.
Holroyd said attempts were made through adult protective services, but to no avail.
They also tried to have him declared mentally incompetent, he said, but he did not show up at the hearing because Williams said he was ill.
Holroyd said DeWeese had been dead for nine days before the family learned about it.
At that point, Williams’ attorney, Andrew Maier of Hinton, told Swope his client is 75 and “has cancer and is disabled,” living on disability payments and is not able to care for any elderly people.
“This is a tragedy,” he said, saying the case was a “failure of fiduciary responsibility” on Williams’ part, not criminal, suggesting probation and restitution.
Then Swope asked Williams if she wanted to speak.
She did, telling Swope that she had nothing to do with DeWeese’s divorce and she never abused him.
She denied doing anything the family said she had done.
Williams said DeWeese told her he “wanted to spend the rest of his days” in her home and he didn’t want to see or talk to his family.
She said she had done nothing wrong.
Although some of Toler’s family wanted to speak again, Swope said there would be no “back and forth.”
At that point, Swope said he rejected the plea agreement because Williams had denied any guilt.
“I’m sending this case to trial,” he said, setting the date for Nov. 15.
He also said much of what was said at the sentencing hearing would “not be admissible in a criminal case” because the question for the trial is, “Did she financially exploit an elderly person?”
A pre-trial hearing was set for Oct. 3.
Dolan said after the decision that she is “okay” with the case going to trial.
— Contact Charles Boothe at firstname.lastname@example.org