Thursday, January 11, 2001
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Posted on: Thursday, January 11, 2001

Decision to stand trial means 20-year term in care-home case

By William Cole
Advertiser Courts Writer

Care-home operator Raquel Bermisa could have stuck by the manslaughter deal that would have seen her spend up to a year in jail for the death of a 79-year-old woman under her care.

Instead, she was sentenced to 20 years in prison yesterday, and must serve a minimum of six years, eight months.

The disparity is at the center of defense attorney William Harrison’s contention that the state sought a "draconian" sentence after Bermisa withdrew her plea agreement in June and subsequently was found guilty of the same charge — manslaughter.

It’s also the springboard for an appeal and Harrison’s desire to seek changes to the sentencing law applied in the case. Harrison said Bermisa shouldn’t be penalized for going to trial. "Justice shouldn’t be a gamble," he said.

Bermisa, 41, is believed to be the first care-home operator in the country convicted of manslaughter for neglecting a client.

She showed no emotion as the sentence was handed down by Circuit Judge Marie Milks, who denied a motion by the care-home operator to remain free pending the appeal.

Deputy Attorney General Michael Parrish disputed the unfairness accusation. "The law demands and requires she be punished for that particular crime under those particular circumstances," he said. "Furthermore, she has not acknowledged any wrongdoing or showed any remorse."

Through the plea agreement, Bermisa would have acknowledged wrong, Parrish said, which is a mitigating factor.

By statute, Milks had to impose the stiffer sentence because the state sought a mandatory sentencing provision for victims older than 60. Without the provision, Bermisa could have received 10 years probation including up a year’s jail time, Harrison said.

Because Bermisa’s actions were an act of omission, rather than volition, the law shouldn’t apply, Harrison said, adding he will approach the Legislature about changes.

During the trial, Parrish argued that 79-year-old Chiyeko Tanouye died in August 1999 from an infection that resulted from improper treatment of bedsores.

"What we’re hoping is (this) will send a message to health care providers that if they fail to carry out their duties and people get hurt and there’s sufficient evidence to prosecute, we will vigorously prosecute," Parrish said.

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