Las Vegas police found Rosemary Burt dying in an upstairs bedroom of her home in April 2008.
The 86-year-old grandmother suffered from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, and she had tumors in her uterus.
Authorities said she also suffered from other unnecessary injuries brought on by the neglect of her caregivers: Burt’s daughter and grandson.
Burt’s body was covered in bedsores. Her skin was cracked, and caked with feces and urine. Her legs were fused together at the lower calfs and the thighs. And there were bugs in her bed.
Her home was cluttered with junk and filth, and the stench of cat excrement permeated the residence near Flamingo Road and Rainbow Boulevard. After discovering her during a welfare check, authorities moved Burt to a medical facility where she died eight months later.
Police also arrested Burt’s caregivers.
On Thursday, Jacqueline Burt, 67, and Alex Burt, 48, were sentenced to 2½-7½ years in prison. Both entered an Alford plea to one count of abuse of an older person resulting in substantial bodily harm. An Alford plea means the defendants didn’t admit guilt but acknowledged prosecutors could prove their case.
During an emotional and tearful sentencing hearing, both defendants said they loved Rosemary Burt, never intended to harm her and believed they were honoring her wish to die at home with no modern medical treatment because she was a Christian Scientist.
Jacqueline Burt told Judge Michael Villani that her mother had told her she was not going to walk anymore and was bed ridden. The dying woman fought all types of care, often screaming in pain and fighting during efforts to turn her to prevent ulcers. She had to be hand-fed, and her mother refused most food, accepting only items such as cinnamon bread softened in milk and cherry milk shakes.
Public defender Alexander Hubert said many of Rosemary Burt’s injuries, such as the ulcers and bed sores, were the result of her dying and would have occurred even at a hospital.
Hubert said Jacqueline Burt was overwhelmed and couldn’t properly care for her mother. Jacqueline Burt liquidated her assets so she could pay to have her mother cared for at a Christian Scientist medical center. The irony, Hubert said, was that if Jacqueline Burt had not moved in to care for her mother, she couldn’t have been charged with a crime.
Alex Burt said he loved his grandmother and nothing the judge could do would hurt more than his inability to be with her when she died. He said that just before his arrest, he and his mother had the flu and were afraid of passing it on to Rosemary Burt. Because of that, they didn’t provide care she needed, he said.
Before sentencing the pair, Villani chastised them for arguing the case was about religion versus medical care.
Villani mentioned murders he had been involved with as a former prosecutor, defense attorney and now as a judge. Villani then showed a photo of Rosemary Burt’s feet, covered with sores.
“A picture of your mother’s, grandmother’s feet,” he said. “It’s probably one of the most disgusting things I’ve seen in my career. The failure to clean someone’s feet, the failure and common decency to cut their toe nails, to put lotion on their skin because it’s cracking from dryness. These are probably the worst photos I’ve ever seen.”
The judge said religion didn’t prevent them from cleaning Rosemary Burt’s body or cleaning the house.
“Her basic human dignity was ignored,” Villani said. “You didn’t provide for her sanitary or housing needs.”
Prosecutor Marc Schifalacqua later said what Rosemary Burt suffered was “completely inhuman … disturbing and absolutely shocking.”
Schifalacqua, who had asked for the maximum sentence of four to 10 years in prison, said he respected the sentence Villani handed down and believed it was appropriate. The defendants’ attorneys had asked for probation.
Contact reporter Francis McCabe at fmccabe@review
journal.com or 702-380-1039.