Thursday, April 24, 2003
Jury Acquits Octogenarian Accused of Lewdness in Nursing Home
By DAVID KLINE
SACRAMENTO (CAPITOL)—A Sacramento Superior Court jury returned a “not guilty” verdict yesterday in the case of an 81-year-old charged with lewd conduct for allegedly grabbing his crotch while visiting his wife in a nursing home.
After a seven-day trial, the jury took less than six hours to decide the fate of Carmichael resident Tom Blakemore.
Before the jury returned its verdict, Judge Raymond Cadei appeared to question prosecutors’ decision to file charges, wondering aloud whether they planned to file similar charges against popular entertainers.
“Michael Jackson better watch out — he might be next,” Cadei said after the jury left to begin deliberations, adding that the singer “probably commits 30 or 40 acts” in violation of Penal Code Sec. 647(a) in a single music video.
The judge, appointed last year by Gov. Gray Davis, said Madonna also could be a target if the state zealously prosecutes laws against lewd behavior, since she often touches herself during her sexually charged song-and-dance routines.
Blakemore’s 84-year-old wife is a resident in the Alzheimer’s disease unit of the SunBridge Brittany Care Center in Carmichael. Prosecutors alleged that while visiting her on July 20 of last year, Blakemore touched his genitals through his pants as a sexual act directed at a resident identified as Mary Lynn.
During Blakemore’s trial, prosecutors said the action was a misdemeanor violation of the law which makes it a crime to engage in “lewd or dissolute conduct in any public place or in any place open to the public or exposed to public view.”
An employee of the nursing home testified that she was approximately 20 feet away and saw Blakemore touching himself in the facility’s dining room in the presence of Mary Lynn and other residents.
Blakemore’s attorney, Michael Long of Sacramento, said his client was guilty of nothing more than scratching a scar left by surgery on his upper leg 20 years ago.
“It was a scratch, not a play,” Long told the jury of eight women and four men in his closing argument.
Prosecutor Alan B. Robison, of the California Attorney General’s Elder Abuse Prosecution Unit, called the scratch defense “a red herring.”
“It’s very contrived,” Robison said.
Although only the July 20 incident was at issue in the trial, the jury also heard testimony from nursing home workers—including one with a criminal record for Medi-Cal fraud—who alleged that Blakemore had grabbed Mary Lynn’s breasts on previous occasions.
If convicted of the misdemeanor charges, Blakemore would have faced a maximum penalty of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine, Robison said.
Robison said a juror told him after the verdict was read that “the conduct described was too ambiguous to convict.”
Defense attorney Long questioned the attorney general’s priorities in assigning what he called a “Dream Team” of prosecutors “to such a minor case.”
Sacramento nursing home resident advocate Carole Herman, of the Foundation Aiding the Elderly, also said the state’s prosecutors should put a higher priority on cases involving physical neglect and abuse of residents by nursing home staff.
“This seems a little ridiculous,” Herman said.
“We make no apologies for the time and effort we’ve put into this case,” Robison said.
The prosecutor would not comment on whether Blakemore was offered a plea agreement, but said, “If he demands a trial, we give him a trial.”
Herman said Wednesday that she was angry about being barred from the courtroom during the testimony of witnesses. She had represented Blakemore and his wife in a dispute with the nursing home over the woman’s care, and supported Blakemore’s defense. She was listed by the prosecution as a potential witness, which resulted in her being kept out of the courtroom during testimony, even though she was not called upon to testify.
In the courthouse hallway, Blakemore said that while the charges have resulted in restrictions on his ability to visit his wife and monitor her care, he has no plans to move her to a new facility, because her disease makes it difficult for her to adapt to new surroundings.
“That place has the only people we know in Sacramento,” he said. “I don’t want to uproot and disturb her life.”
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company