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Kentucky New Era

News that hits home    

Bedridden mom's death prompts murder charge

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Posted: Tuesday, August 16, 2005 12:00 am

When Betty Simpson, 76, arrived by ambulance at Jennie Stuart Medical Center in June, she was suffering from bedsores, malnutrition and dehydration. According to her obituary, Simpson died of natural causes several days later.

But police now blame Simpson's daughter and caretaker for her death, and for attempting to forge a $1,555.80 check from her bank account.

This week, Penny Jo Smith, 41, faces charges of murder and criminal possession of a forged instrument in Christian Circuit Court.

Police say Smith, of Bark Ridge Court, had custody of her mother, but abused her by denying care and created serious physical injury. According to statements made to police, Smith said she treated her mother's bedsores by scraping the scabs and cauterizing the subsequent wounds with a lighter.

Bedsores form when an elderly patient is not moved for long periods of time. The continuous pressure on the nerves and tissue can kill them and create an ulcer-like skin lesion.

According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, a bedsore left untreated can break open, become infected and spread deep into the muscle.

Before her mother's death, Smith was charged with knowing abuse/neglect by a caretaker, but was later indicted on the charge of murder and possession of a forged instrument.

The murder of a dependant by a caretaker is rare, said police spokesman Paul Ray.

"It's not common," Ray said. The last such case in recent memory was that of Joel Robinson "Rob" Embry III, he said.

Embry, former director of the local Public Defender's Office, was arrested in February 1999, for the alleged neglect and death of his 75-year-old mother.

Embry was arrested after his mother was taken to Jennie Stuart for symptoms of hypothermia. She was also found to be starving, dehydrated, and have several abrasions.

At Embry's home, police found his mother's room had no heat, and feces and urine covered her bed.

Embry was later found guilty of second-degree manslaughter and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Smith remains in the Christian County Regional Jail on a $100,000 cash bond. Her arraignment is scheduled for 1 p.m. Wednesday.

Emily Burton can be reached by telephone at 887-3239 or by e-mail at eburton@kentuckynewera.com.

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