5 Aug 2016

Woman found guilty of letting mother starve to death

8:43 pm on 5 August 2016

The woman found guilty of letting her mother starve to death in her own waste showed little emotion as the foreman read the jury's verdict - guilty of causing her own mother's death.

Entrance to the High Court in Auckland

High Court in Auckland Photo: justice.govt.nz

Cindy Taylor was found guilty of the manslaughter of her 76-year-old mother, Ena Dung, in the High Court in Auckland, earlier this evening.

Ms Dung was found dead in her own waste, covered in open sores, weighing just 29kg and with broken ribs and a broken sternum.

Cindy Taylor's friends and landlords - Brian and Luana Taylor, who are not related to her - have also been found guilty of failing to get Ms Dung help, despite knowing she was in danger.

Cindy Taylor was also found guilty of withdrawing over $36,000 of her dead mother and uncle's pensions.

The jurors took five hours to return their verdicts of guilty and, as they were read out, there was little emotion from the Taylors.

Photos of Ms Dung showed an emaciated elderly woman with sallow cheeks and protruding pelvis bones.

One of the emergency staff first on the scene described her as a scarecrow, just skin and bone.

In her opening address in the three-week trial, Crown prosecutor Natalie Walker told the jurors they could be forgiven for thinking Ms Dung lived alone and had completely withdrawn.

But there was food in the cupboards at 41 Moncrief Ave in Clendon, food in the fridge, cleaning products and a washing machine. There was linen on the beds, every bed except Ms Dung's. She lay in her own waste on a green plastic sheet.

Cindy Taylor told the court she was doing the best she could and her mother refused food, water and medical attention.

But the Crown said Ms Taylor completely failed her mother and should have got medical help. Instead, she left her to die a painful death.

During the trial, the jury was told that Brian and Luana Taylor had taken Ms Taylor and her mother in as boarders but the four had known each other for years.

In her closing address, Ms Walker said the three defendants shared a small three-bedroom house with one bathroom. All of them would have seen, heard and smelled Ms Dung's suffering.

"Ms Dung's shocking weight, 29kg, her emaciated state and the protruding bones are all evidence you can be sure that [Ms Taylor] failed to provide her mother with nourishment."

Ms Walker said Ms Taylor also failed to provide her mother with basic nursing care - there were no clean sheets or clothes, and no regular baths.

"She had skin tears, visible blood, pus, open exposed sores. There were no signs of anti-septic, disinfectant creams, plasters, bandages. These are all open sites for infection on her mother in a hot New Zealand summer, as she lay in her own waste on a plastic sheet."

Ms Walker said Ms Dung also had 14 broken ribs and a broken breastbone that required immediate medical attention, but instead Ms Taylor put her in bed.

She said the pain would have been so severe, Ms Dung would have struggled to move or even breathe.

To illustrate the pain, Ms Walker pointed to the injury suffered by Hurricanes captain Dane Coles.

"Rugby fans amongst you may have recently seen Dane Coles, the 108kg hooker and All Black, leaving the field in agony, after what was described as 'an injury to his rib cartilage' - so not even a fractured rib.

"That was during the quarter final win over the Sharks. And that injury - which was not a fracture - and certainly wasn't 14 fractured ribs and a sternum - left that hard man of the All Blacks out of the rest of the match."

Ms Walker said there was no emergency call while Ms Dung was alive, no trips to the hospital or doctors, and rather than take time off work to look after her mother, Ms Taylor increased her hours.

She said the case was one of the worst examples of neglect.

In Ms Taylor's defence, her lawyer Peter Kaye said his client's life was similar to that of the tale of Cinderella and the ugly sisters.

He said Ms Taylor was working long hours on night shift, only to come home to clean the house and care for her mother, snatching sleep when she could.

"There are 12 of you, it's a reasonable person. Not with the benefit of hindsight, not some sort of perfect robot-type person but reasonable person."

Brian Taylor's lawyer, Louise Freyer, said her client only found out how bad Mrs Dung was on the day she died.

Mrs Freyer said Ms Taylor was responsible for caring for her mother and there had even been an agreement drawn up and signed when she moved in.

She said it was clear Ms Taylor was not coping in the last few days of Mrs Dung's life but Brian Taylor did not know that.

"There's been no evidence that suddenly Cindy Taylor starts crying hysterically and says: 'I can't do this anymore, I can't do this anymore. My mother's wasting away there, she's got sores all over her body. I can't cope'. Nothing like that."

Mrs Freyer said Mr Taylor was asked to check on Mrs Dung after she had died and it was only at that point that he saw the state of her and by then it was too late.

Luana Taylor's lawyer Maria Mortimer said her client and Ms Dung lived separate lives, despite living under the same roof.

Ms Mortimer told the jurors that Ms Dung died a sad and forlorn death but the Crown had not proved the charge against her client.

She said Luana Taylor was in a wheelchair and spent most of her time in the lounge, while Ms Dung was in a bedroom at the end of the hallway.

But the jury disagreed.

Justice Wylie thanked them for a "sterling service".

They also found Cindy Taylor guilty of misusing her mother and uncle's EFTPOS cards after they had died, by withdrawing over $36,000 of their pensions.

A manager at Work and Income, Karen Inns, gave evidence at the trial and told the court the agency relied on next of kin to notify them of a death and it was at that point that a pension was stopped.

Work and Income also has an information-sharing arrangement with Births, Deaths and Marriages, but just how that system failed was not asked of Ms Inns.

In this case, the pension payments were only stopped when police alerted Work and Income to the deaths.

The court was also told Cindy Taylor was receiving a job seeker's benefit while being employed fulltime by a security company.

Cindy Taylor told the court the job seeker's benefit was actually a disability benefit because she had problems with her knees but she was strongly challenged on that by the Crown.

RNZ has asked Work and Income how their information-sharing agreement with Births Deaths and Marriages failed, how often people were able to get away with withdrawing money from dead pensioners' accounts and if Work and Income was able to get money back.

Work and Income has so far failed to respond to those questions.

The three found guilty today have been remanded in custody and will be sentenced next month. Cindy Taylor faces a maximum penalty of life, while Brian and Luana Taylor face a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.