Care aide do­ing time for death adds plea

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - JOHN LYNCH

A for­mer home health­care aide who by ne­glect caused the death of his men­tally dis­abled client promised on Thurs­day to pay more than $31,000 in fines and resti­tu­tion for cheat­ing Med­i­caid, which funded his ser­vices as a full­time care­taker.

Shawn Ed­ward Howard is al­ready serv­ing a 20-year prison sen­tence for sec­ond-de­gree mur­der for the Fe­bru­ary 2015 death of Jimmy Don Ab­ner.

The 57-year-old Fort Smith man had the men­tal ca­pac­ity of a 5-year-old due to early on­set de­men­tia. Ab­ner’s body was found in woods near Cedarville two days af­ter Howard re­ported him miss­ing.

The 5-foot-tall Ab­ner weighed 92 pounds when his body was found, naked ex­cept for socks. Med­i­cal ex­am­in­ers at­trib­uted Ab­ner’s death to de­hy­dra­tion and in­fec­tions from bed­sores brought on by star­va­tion. He had weighed 125 pounds five months ear­lier.

Doc­tors re­ported he had bed­sores that had de­vel­oped over the last six months of his life. One sore was 2 inches wide and more than 5 inches long.

State As­sis­tant At­tor­ney Gen­eral Emily Ab­bott, who pros­e­cuted the fraud case, told Pu­laski County Cir­cuit Judge Leon John­son that Howard fraud­u­lently billed Med­i­caid for $23,980 in ser­vices he did not per­form or in­suf­fi­ciently per­formed be­tween Au­gust 2014 and Feb. 10, 2015, the day Howard re­ported Ab­ner miss­ing.

Plead­ing guilty to Med­i­caid fraud and theft, Howard, who was rep­re­sented by at­tor­neys Bill Simp­son and Will Ogles, ac­cepted a five-year ex­ten­sion to his cur­rent prison sen­tence.

The ar­range­ment also re­quires that he serve a 15-year sus­pended sen­tence con­di­tioned on him pay­ing a $7,500 fine and re­pay­ing Med­i­caid or go­ing back to prison.

Howard pleaded guilty to the mur­der charge in Jan­uary 2016. At­tor­ney Gen­eral Les­lie Rut­ledge charged him with Med­i­caid fraud the next month.

The charges arose from the dis­cov­ery by in­ves­ti­ga­tors in the at­tor­ney gen­eral’s Med­i­caid fraud di­vi­sion that Howard had billed the pro­gram for 196 days of round-the-clock work, about six months.

But records from the Choctaw Casino show that his player’s card was used 151 days over that same time at the gam­bling hall in in Po­cola, Okla., and that he col­lected win­nings on 14 days.

Howard re­ported that he had been earn­ing $8 per hour to look af­ter Ab­ner while working for Bost Hu­man De­vel­op­ment Ser­vices in Fort Smith.

When he re­ported Ab­ner miss­ing, Howard told au­thor­i­ties that Ab­ner had left the apart­ment, while Howard was tak­ing a shower, with a man Howard knew only as Eugene.

At one point, po­lice re­ceived a let­ter pur­port­edly from Ab­ner, say­ing that he and Eugene had gone to Jo­plin, Mo., to be “gay mar­ried” and that he would kill Eugene and him­self un­less po­lice stopped try­ing to find him.

Po­lice said the let­ter was mailed from Ok­la­homa, where Howard kept a home, and that the hand­writ­ing was iden­ti­cal to Howard’s.

Howard told po­lice that Ab­ner was wear­ing shoes when he left the home, but the man’s only pair of shoes were still in his closet.

Howard also re­ported that he reg­u­larly took Ab­ner to lunch at restau­rants and bathed the man daily. He never sought med­i­cal care for Ab­ner, ac­cord­ing to po­lice re­ports.

Ab­ner had be­come sus­cep­ti­ble to the in­fec­tion from his sores be­cause he was starv­ing, ac­cord­ing to the au­topsy re­port.

“The only rea­son­able con­clu­sion is that he did not re­ceive ad­e­quate nu­tri­tion dur­ing that six-month in­ter­val,” the au­topsy re­port said. “When the mal­nour­ish­ment reached a point where lethargy and aban­don­ment of nor­mal ac­tiv­i­ties had taken place, a rea­son­able re­sponse would have been to seek med­i­cal at­ten­tion.”

The symp­toms of star­va­tion and fes­ter­ing sores would have been ap­par­ent to who­ever was car­ing for Ab­ner and clearly demon­strated the need for med­i­cal care, the re­port said.

“The pres­sure sores, par­tic­u­larly the one on the hip, would have taken days to de­velop, and would have been read­ily vis­i­ble to a care­taker. The ap­pear­ance of a bed sore should have pro­vided fur­ther in­ter­est to seek med­i­cal at­ten­tion.”

At one point, po­lice re­ceived a let­ter pur­port­edly from Ab­ner, say­ing that he and Eugene had gone to Jo­plin, Mo., to be “gay mar­ried” and that he would kill Eugene and him­self un­less po­lice stopped try­ing to find him.

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