Athens Review, Athens, Texas

March 28, 2014

Starvation trial halted

DA says defendant changed plea from not guilty to guilty

From Staff Reports
The Athens Review

Athens — Wednesday morning, a jury trial in the 173rd Judicial District Court came to an abrupt ending.

Irma Espinoza, 52, of Athens, stopped the jury trial in progress, and changed her plea of not guilty to guilty after one day of graphic testimony which depicted the long-term chronic neglect of her 17-year-old severely-disabled daughter that weighed only 29 pounds when investigators from Adult Protective Services and the Henderson County Sheriff’s Office became aware of her condition. 

Espinoza was officially charged with injury to a Disabled Person by Omission, which required prosecutors to prove that bodily injury was caused by Espinoza’s failure to act and seek required medical treatment, or by withholding proper nutrition from her daughter.

Assistant District Attorneys Nancy Rumar and Justin Weiner prosecuted the case on behalf of Scott McKee’s Henderson County District Attorney’s Office.

Testimony from Investigator Jessica Halbert of the Henderson County Sherriff’s Office detailed an extensive investigation into a severely-disabled 17-year-old who had been so maltreated and malnourished that at one point she only weighed 29 pounds while receiving emergency medical care from Children’s Medical Center of Dallas. 

Assistant DA Weiner elicited testimony from the investigator that the physical condition of the child was horrific due to multiple stage-four pressure ulcers from lack of movement. 

Thirty-one pictures were introduced into evidence that depicted sores so deep that they revealed bones and the skeleton-like figure of the child in a medial bed.  Somehow, the child survived after developing re-feeding syndrome, severe dehydration, extreme failure to thrive, malnutrition, acute kidney failure and pressure ulcers that were so infected that the infection spread to her bones.

Halbert also detailed for the jury the deplorable conditions of the home and bedroom that the young victim lived in.  According to Halbert, numerous cats lived in and around the residence with urine and fecal matter throughout the house.  Halbert also told the jury that the smell of cat urine from inside the home was so powerful it could be smelled from outside the home. 

An audio recording that was played for the jury contained a statement made by Espinoza.  In the statement, she said that the 17-year-old with Cerebral Palsy and Mental Retardation went nearly seven years without any medical treatment. Testimony further revealed that Espinoza was the beneficiary of the nearly $2.8 million trust fund when the child dies. 

District Attorney Scott McKee indicated that it was one of the worst cases of neglect he had ever seen. 

“Words cannot describe the condition in which the victim was in,” McKee said. “Investigator Halbert and I worked together closely on this case early on in the investigation.  When she brought me the pictures of the victim, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.” 

McKee stated that he knew after reviewing the pictures this would be a very tough and emotional case for everyone involved. 

A sentencing hearing has been set for May 12 at 9 a.m. in the 173rd Judicial District Court.