A couple accused of neglecting an elderly Gainesville woman by depriving of her of food and medical care in deplorable living conditions for months prior to her death will not be charged with murder.
Hall County District Attorney Lee Darragh said Thursday that an autopsy of 79-year-old Gladys Smallwood revealed a pre-existing heart condition that led to her April 6 death at Northeast Georgia Medical Center, some six weeks after she was admitted to the hospital.
Smallwood’s son, 52-year-old Larry Smallwood, and his live-in girlfriend, 46-year-old Brenda Jean Ivey, are charged with cruelty to a person 65 or older and forgery. Hall County Sheriff’s officials said the couple abused and neglected the woman in the months before she was admitted to the hospital. She was denied food at Larry Smallwood’s Hazel Street home and spent much of her final weeks in the house lying in the soiled sheets of her bed, investigators said.
After she was hospitalized, Smallwood and Ivey cashed her Social Security checks, authorities said.
Darragh said that after consulting with the medical examiner who conducted the autopsy, "additional charges are not anticipated."
Darragh said he was told by the medical examiner that Smallwood’s death could not be directly linked to neglect.
"She likely would have soon died regardless of the alleged neglectful treatment," Darragh said, adding, "The charges that were made in the investigation are backed by sufficient evidence to enable the state to go forward on those."
Cruelty to a person older than of 65 is a felony that carries a sentencing range of one to 20 years in prison.
Investigators in court documents described a grotesque living environment at the home and severe infections on Gladys Smallwood’s body that went without medical attention. Neighbors said they sneaked food to her when she was alone.
An investigation began soon after she was hospitalized, and the couple was arrested at a local funeral home shortly after her death. They remain jailed without bond.
One relative of Gladys Smallwood said she was
disappointed that the couple would not face murder charges.
Beverly Emmett, a great niece of Smallwood’s, said she was informed of the decision Thursday and understood the district attorney’s position.
"The law’s the law, and they said the cause of her death was because of something on her heart," Emmett said. "But I still think if they would have took care of her, she would have lived longer."
Emmett said she would be satisfied "as long as they don’t get out and walk free."
She said 20 years in prison was not punishment enough.
"They ought to be locked in a room and starved for days at a time," she said. "This was an elderly lady that couldn’t help herself that they done this to."