Updated: Abrecht convicted in death of Shores patient
Gina Albrecht’s defense attorney Bobby Guttridge faced a mountain of prosecutorial evidence on Tuesday morning when the time came for him to present the defense’s side of the manslaughter case against his client, who is charged with causing the death of 81-year-old George May.
Starting Wednesday morning of last week and running through Monday, witness after witness helped paint a picture how Albrecht, 45 years younger than May, who described herself as a home healthcare aide turned Anna Nicole Smith, seduced the senile, disabled man, depleted his finances and then abandoned him to die of starvation.
Guttridge’s questions during cross-examination appeared to be an attempt to raise doubt over whether May actually had dementia and was truly handicapped and helpless, or just stubborn; and whether Albrecht was a money-grubbing killer, or simply a friend of May’s trying in vain to help him.
Guttridge surprised prosecutors in his opener last week when he told jurors that Albrecht “concocted” her story to police that she had moved out of May’s home two weeks before his death and had not been back inside. Actually, said Guttridge, she stuck by May and tried to save him.
“George May lived his life and died on his own terms because he was captain of his own ship,” Guttridge told jurors.
But by the time prosecutors finished putting on their case, that ship – with Gina Albrecht in charge – looked a bit like the Titanic.
Indian River Shores detectives who investigated the case showed photos of May taken on Oct. 24, 2012, when they found him alone and dead from starvation and dehydration in his home in Marbrisa, an island gated community.
In the photos, which caused jurors to grimace and look away, May, shirtless, is lying in his bed on his back so emaciated that his spinal column, aorta and pacemaker are clearly visible under the skin beneath his chest.
One detective read a note that police discovered on the dining room table the day they found May dead.
“George 911 if you need help! We won’t be back for a week or two. They will take care of you. We’ll come back. Answer your phone! Cheese Cave 794-3848.
(Drawing of a heart), Gina.”
After about a year of living with May, Albrecht left in his van around Oct. 10, 2012, she told police. At the time, May was unable to walk and suffering from dementia. His phone was not working because the batteries were dead. Almost all the food in his fridge was rotten, with expiration dates from a month before, and dirty pots in the sink had flies and maggots in them, said police.
On cross-examination, Guttridge asked about a glass of water on May’s night stand in a photo and also got a response from police that there was food in his freezer.
A letter police found in the Albrecht’s home in southwest Vero Beach was addressed to Gina Albrecht in Marbrisa with an Oct. 19, 2012 postmark, which showed she had been in the May house within four days of when May was found dead, said Guttridge.
“Or somebody checked the mailbox,” responded the detective.
Jurors listened to a recording of the police interview with Albrecht the day May was found dead on Oct. 24, 2012. In it, the former certified nursing assistant who went to work for May in June, 2011, said she had left May “a few weeks ago” and that she had been calling him but he “doesn’t turn the ringer on.”
“I was his friend. I don’t know where calling me his caretaker came from,” she said.
May got around fine by himself, she said, explaining that she “wouldn’t just walk away from him.” She and her husband had gone by once during the week they departed, but found May in bed sleeping and left, she said.
“You left for two weeks without any concern?” police asked on the tape.
“He can throw something in the microwave easily,” replied Albrecht.
Numerous witnesses testified that May had been too mentally and physically compromised for at least six months to prepare food or even feed himself. Nurses who cared for him in April and May of 2011 before Gina Albrecht started to work for him said he couldn’t prepare food or feed or clean himself even then.
They described him as “confused” and “delusional.” Friends and neighbors told of times between late 2011 and the time he died when he didn’t know who they were, and seemed to believe his wife, who died in July, 2010, was still alive.
Workmen who renovated May’s house to make it more accommodating for Albrecht, her husband and two daughters, who had moved in, told of seeing Albrecht walk out of May’s bedroom in the early morning in pajamas and “sexy lingerie.” When the floor tiler was asked by prosecutor Lev Evans to describe how she looked in the lingerie, he laughed and responded, “No thank you.”
The pool cleaner said Albrecht told him May called her his “trophy wife,” and she called herself “his Anna Nicole Smith.”
A bank teller and a bank manager told of May’s accounts being drained in the first six months that Albrecht arrived on the scene. They called the Elderly Abuse Hotline, they testified, but nothing happened. More than $200,000 disappeared, said witnesses.
May’s niece, Mary Olsen, wept on the stand when asked to identify family keepsakes found in the Albrecht home after May died. They included May’s dog tags still on a ball chain, a family prayer book, antique paintings of Asian warlords, a silver tea service and a set of Lennox china.
Olsen said she had come from her home in Delaware to visit her uncle three times in early 2011 and, finding him incoherent and helpless, set up 24-hour home care for him with an agency, as well as taking over his finances to pay his bills.
In June, 2011, when Olsen called to check on him, home health aide Gina Albrecht answered and gushed about her uncle. By July, odd charges were showing up in his statements: an invoice for a salon and spa, charges for beer bought at gas stations, restaurant bills for several people and a $1,000 bill for downloaded iTunes.
Nevertheless, May insisted that he would be in charge of his own finances and Olsen relinquished her power-of-attorney.
By August, she said, no one would answer May’s phone; no one would call back after messages were left, and by September the number had been changed.
Among the star witnesses was May’s neurologist Leslie Huszar.
Prosecutor Evans asked him, “Is it dementia or does (George May) just want to party – how can we tell?”
Huszar responded with a detailed description of what a CAT scan, MRI and EEG, as well as clinical testing, revealed about May in January, 2011, six months before Gina Albrecht even appeared on the scene.
Showing jurors slides of May’s brain, the neurologist pointed to areas of fluid where the brain had shrunk. “It correlates with the confusion that supports his dementia.... He was not competent,” he said.
Albrecht’s teacher from her home healthcare program described what Albrecht, an A student, had studied in her courses, which included how to recognize dementia, how to report neglect and how to honor boundaries between the patient and the caregiver.
On cross-examination, Guttridge asked the teacher if May’s driving to a bank and pub in early 2012, was a sign of competency, which, if so, would suggest George May was only doing what he wanted and was, indeed, “captain of his own ship.”
Her reply: ”It would take a physician to say.”