Caregiver found guilty of neglect but jury rejects abuse, murder charges

Former assisted living worker could face a new trial on one felony murder charge

A Cobb County jury Wednesday found a former caregiver at an upscale assisted living home guilty of elder neglect of a 91-year-old resident who died in 2017.

But the jury found Landon Jean Pierre Terrel not guilty of two felony elder abuse charges and one felony murder charge tied to those counts in the death of Adam Bennett, who was in Terrel’s care at Sunrise of East Cobb.

And after deliberating for more than 19 hours, the jury deadlocked on a felony murder charge tied to neglect, with one juror holding out for a conviction. A mistrial was then declared on that charge.

Prosecutors had accused Terrel of beating the World War II veteran, who suffered multiple injuries at the facility.

Jurors didn’t believe Bennett was beaten, though, said Jason Marbutt, the Cobb County senior assistant district attorney who prosecuted the case.

Marbutt said one of the jurors explained the verdicts. “Their general sense was that they did not believe that this was an assault,” he said. “They absolutely believed he was neglectful.” They didn’t see his conduct rising to the level of felony murder, which means someone is killed during the commission of a felony but does not suggest the death was intentional.

The juror also expressed that other Sunrise employees had also failed in their care of Bennett, Marbutt said.

Terrel was assigned to care for Bennett during an overnight shift in August 2017.

During that night, Bennett left his daughter, Christine Houk, a series of frantic voice mails saying “I’m dying” and asking her to rush from her nearby home to the Sunrise facility to help him. He told his morning caregiver, “He punched me,” according to testimony at last week’s trial.

Bennett had bruises on face and neck. When he arrived at the hospital, doctors discovered multiple broken ribs, a punctured lung and damaged kidney. Bennett died Aug. 18, 2017, after three days in the hospital.

Cobb police said in Terrel's arrest warrant in 2017 that Terrel had admitted "striking" Bennett during his overnight shift. But audio and video statements that Terrel voluntarily made to detectives that were presented at the trial did not include such an admission.

Terrel told the detectives that Bennett was combative that night. He said he caught Bennett as he started to fall from his bed and that Bennett’s chest hit the side of the bed. He admitted to poor judgment for failing to respond to Bennett’s complaints of being in pain that night.

Aaron Henrickson, the defense attorney who represented Terrel, said a juror expressed that she didn’t feel like the case merited being charged as a murder.

Terrel and his family were visibly relieved when the verdict was announced.

Bennett’s daughter, Christine Houk, left the courtroom in tears.

Terrel is scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 19 for elder neglect, which carries a possible sentence of 1 to 20 years.

Terrel could be retried on the related felony murder charge. Marbutt said the prosecutor’s office will focus on sentencing first and then make a decision about whether it will seek another trial.