November 16, 2017 - 6:47 pm
Updated November 16, 2017 - 9:26 pm
A judge threw out murder charges Thursday against a couple accused in the death of their special-needs son.
Ross and Yolanda Strauss originally were charged with murder and three counts of abuse of a vulnerable person with substantial mental or bodily harm or death. They were expected to be released from the Clark County Detention Center, where they have been held since early May.
“It’s always been evident to me that this was a tragic incident, but one in which my client has no criminal responsibility,” said defense attorney Josh Tomsheck, who represents Yolanda Strauss. “She’s absolutely heartbroken at the loss of a child she loved very much, and it would further compound the tragedy if they were to continue to try to hold her responsible.”
After District Judge Valerie Adair’s decision, Chief Deputy District Attorney Dena Rinetti said prosecutors would continue to pursue a case against the couple.
Authorities initially said the pair had no explanation for the lethal levels of medication found in their son’s system after what they described as a serious accident in a shower in February.
Tomsheck argued that Yolanda Strauss had become ill and her husband was the primary caregiver. The attorney also said prosecutors never showed that Yolanda Strauss participated in criminal activity.
She “cared, loved and looked after Brandon for 21 years, having adopted him as an infant,” Tomsheck wrote in court papers, adding that she had no prior accusations of child abuse or neglect. “The only thing elicited before the grand jury as to Yolanda is that she cared for her son.”
Brandon Strauss, 21, had been diagnosed with Down syndrome and autism. He was nonverbal, prone to banging his head and hitting himself, had difficulty walking and required help bathing, eating, brushing his teeth and taking medication, court records stated.
He suffered second- and third-degree burns on up to 12 percent of his body, which Ross Strauss had covered with ointment and bandages. A medical examiner ruled that the death was caused by polymicrobial gram negative sepsis, drug intoxication and medical neglect.
Ross Strauss, 64, later told police he was washing his son in the shower the morning of Feb. 17 or Feb. 18. He said the young man suffered a seizure and fell, hitting the faucet and inadvertently turning up the hot water, which burned his body
Police said Yolanda Strauss, 63, noticed that the burns were bleeding while they changed his dressings. She said the wounds looked “weird” and “angry” as the days progressed. She told police she and her husband had agreed to take their son to a medical professional Feb. 21 — the day after they found him dead.
After attending to his son, Ross Strauss “didn’t think there was anything more that would be done for Brandon at the emergency room,” his lawyer, Kathleen Hamers, wrote in court papers. “Looking back, he recognized that wasn’t a good call.”
Hamers could not be reached for comment Thursday.