Landon Terrel, a former caregiver at the upscale Sunrise at East Cobb assisted living home, was sentenced on Friday to five years behind bars for elder neglect.
In imposing the sentence, Cobb County Superior Court Judge S. Lark Ingram rejected pleas from the family of Adam Bennett, a 91-year-old who died after being injured in Terrel’s care, for the maximum possible sentence.
The judge also rejected pleas from Terrel’s family that he be sentenced to time served, but Terrel will get credit for the nearly two years he has been jailed awaiting trial following. After his time in prison, Terrel will serve five years on probation, and the judge also barred Terrel from caring for elderly people.
Terrel was working the overnight shift at Sunrise in August 2017 and was assigned to care for Bennett, a retired businessman and World War II veteran. Bennett had a bruised face the next morning and told another caregiver, “He punched me.” At the hospital, doctors discovered Bennett had multiple broken ribs, a punctured lung and damaged kidney, and he died three days later.
Terrel was charged with felony murder, elder abuse and elder neglect. But a Cobb County jury last month found him guilty on just one count: felony elder neglect.
During the emotional sentencing hearing on Friday, Bennett’s daughter Christine Houk tearfully described the impact her father’s death had had on the family, and she urged the judge to impose the maximum possible sentence of 20 years.
“I think my father was murdered by this man in a very violent way and I think he should get the full allowability of incarceration because he took something very, very precious from the Bennett family and the people that my father knew and loved,” Houk said.
In the wee hours of the morning before he was rushed to the hospital, Bennett left Houk a series of panicked voice mails, saying “I’m dying” and asking her to rush to Sunrise at East Cobb to help him. Houk said during the hearing that she had never heard her father speak with the kind of panic and fear that was evident in his voice on the three messages he left for her that night.
“He was desperate for somebody to help him, for someone to care for him,” she said. “It grieves my heart that my father died that way.”
But Terrel’s wife, brother and his pastor testified that Terrel was a devoted family man and devout Christian who was not the kind of person who would abuse an elder. They urged the judge to sentence him just to the time he had already served.
Aaron Henrickson, Terrel’s defense attorney, said Terrel had no criminal history and said the jury found him guilty only of the least serious charge he faced. Terrel told police that he caught Bennett that night as the man started to fall from his bed and that Bennett’s chest hit the side of the bed. Cobb County’s medical examiner said the injuries were the result of an assault, but a medical expert testifying for the defense said Bennett was more likely hurt from an unwitnessed fall in his room.
Ingram sentenced Terrel under the Georgia First Offender Act and he will have a clean criminal record if he successfully completes his sentence.
When imposing her sentence, Ingram referenced the voice mails Bennett left his daughter and also cited testimony that suggested the Sunrise facility was understaffed and poorly managed in 2017 and that Terrel’s work history was blemished.
“Now we have such a sad situation, and it’s a real tragedy,” she said. “It’s everybody’s worst day.”
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