The defense attorney for a Tucson woman who abused and stole from a bedridden multiple sclerosis patient asked a judge for mercy Thursday, saying her client has mental-health issues and found herself in over her head.
"She did her best and her best was not good enough because she wasn't equipped," Juliana Ore-Giron said of Lea Marie Hughes, 37.
Pima County Superior Court Judge Richard Fields sentenced Hughes to two concurrent terms of two years in prison, plus five years' probation. He also said she is not ever to work or care for another vulnerable adult.
Hughes was arrested last August after Ruthann Jacox, 64, was hospitalized with deep, open bedsores that had become infected.
Jacox died Nov. 8, but doctors could not determine if she died as a result of neglect or multiple sclerosis, said Assistant Arizona Attorney General Jesse Delaney.
When she arrived at Tucson Medical Center, Jacox, who weighed 195 in 2007, was down to about 80 pounds. When she died, she weighed 90 pounds, Delaney said.
Hughes pleaded guilty to vulnerable-adult abuse, attempted theft/financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult and child abuse last month. She could have received as little as one year in prison or as much as 13 years.
An emotional Delaney said she found it sad that Jacox, a retired nurse, spent her life caring for others, but in the end was unable to help herself. Delaney asked Fields for the maximum prison sentence.
Delaney also told Fields Hughes once called her boyfriend from jail and told him that although state CPS was likely to take their son once he was born, it would be OK because "it only takes nine months to make another one."
In a letter to the judge, James Jacox said when he called his sister from out-of-state, he constantly was told she was sleeping.
He is convinced his sister would still be alive if not for Hughes.
During their investigation, Tucson police detectives learned Jacox hired Hughes in 2007 for $10 an hour to take care of her physical needs and financial matters.
Hughes, with two children and her boyfriend, Gilbert Pierre Peralta Jr., moved into Jacox's southeast-side home. Jacox became bedridden two years later.
Jacox told police that once she was bedridden she was left alone from 1 p.m. until 9:30 p.m. every day. She was deprived of bed linens, diapers, adequate food and liquids and a telephone.
"Hughes would call her names if she asked for more food," according to court documents.
When detectives searched Jacox's home they discovered bags of trash, animal feces and maggot-infested food throughout the home. One bathroom couldn't be used and Jacox's wheelchair was buried behind furniture.
At the time she was hospitalized, Jacox said Hughes had taken her out of her room twice in the last year, once on Halloween and once on July 4.
When detectives looked into Jacox's finances, they discovered Hughes had opened several credit cards in Jacox's name that were in collection because they hadn't been paid. Hughes also took out a second mortgage on Jacox's house for $20,000. The house was foreclosed on following Jacox's death.
In addition, Jacox's savings and IRA were also depleted. Thousands of dollars in bank fees had been assessed because the couple continued to use her ATM card when no money was in the bank.
Ore-Giron told Fields Hughes was ill-equipped to deal with financial matters, someone with Jacox's medical condition and her children. She asked for leniency because Hughes has no criminal history. In addition, the ninth-grade dropout has mental-health and other health issues, is remorseful and has accepted responsibility for her actions, Ore-Giron said.
"She's a sweet woman. It's unfortunate and it cannot be undone," Ore-Giron said.
The defense attorney said Hughes is motivated to change and hopes to regain custody of two children who are now in foster care - a 9-year-old son and the boy she gave birth to in jail five months ago.
When given the opportunity to speak, an over-wrought Hughes simply wailed, "I'm sorry."
Peralta, the boyfriend, is scheduled to go to trial Dec. 4.
Contact reporter Kim Smith at 573-4241 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: KimSmithStar