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Caregiver acquitted, two others plead guilty in assisted living death

Alzheimer's patient Hazel Place, 86, wandered into an assisted living courtyard in 100 degree heat. It took six hours for caregivers to find her.

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo — After 15 minutes of deliberations Thursday, a jury acquitted a caregiver accused in the death of an 86-year-old Alzheimer’s patient at an assisted living facility in Grand Junction in 2021.

Jenny Logan, 50, was acquitted in Mesa County District Court of one count of negligent homicide in the death of Hazel Place, 86, and one count of at-risk neglect resulting in death.

Letticia Martinez, 28, already had pleaded guilty to a neglect charge relating to the death. She was sentenced to 30 days in county jail, 100 hours of community service and three years of probation.

Jamie Johnston, 31, also pleaded guilty to a lesser charge. The Denver Gazette reports she was sentenced Monday to 60 days in county jail, along with three years of probation and 150 hours of community service.

“After the verdict, all of us cried,” said family attorney Chadwick McGrady on Friday. “It’s awful. My clients feel like they were let down by the system.”

McGrady said the family respects the jury’s decision but he wasn't clear how the jury was able to reach a verdict so quickly.

“The (defense) attorney appointed the blame on Cappella,” McGrady said. “The attorney appointed the blame on other employees at Cappella.”

McGrady said it’s still being determined whether Place’s family will sue the facility, Cappella of Grand Junction and its parent company, Englewood-based Christian Living Communities.

“We know these proceedings have been difficult for all involved, especially the family of Ms. Place who we continue to hold in our thoughts and prayers,” said Pam Sullivan, vice president of strategy and communication for Christian Living Communities, in a statement. “We also continue to hold Ms. Logan in our thoughts and prayers.”

Place’s case has been the subject of in-depth investigative reporting by the Denver Gazette’s Jenny Deam.

“I was just stunned … I would say,” Deam said. “I’ve been doing this a long time, and this was probably one of the worst deaths that I’ve ever reported on.

“They were told she died a peaceful death," she said. "Adding to that, there were these details. They said she had a great day. She ate dinner. She asked for seconds, then around 8 that night she wanted to go outside and see the sunset. And when they went out and checked on her at 8:30, she was dead. Well, as it turned out, none of that was true. It was all a lie.”

Deam’s reporting revealed the company that operates Cappella was inspected by state public health investigators after Place’s death and inspectors found multiple violations. The company was fined $2,000, the maximum allowed per facility per year at the time, according to Deam’s reporting.

Place’s family attorney pointed out that Place paid about $7,600 a month to stay in the facility. The fine the company paid equaled about a week’s worth of her rent bill.

Deam found that the company fixed all of the problems in time for another inspection late last year.

“It raises some questions about accountability when something really bad happens in this burgeoning industry,” she said.

In a statement, Christian Living Communities said they continue to focus on the well-being and safety of the older adults they serve.

“Due to ongoing legal proceedings, we cannot provide any further comment at this time,” the statement said.

More 9NEWS stories by Steve Staeger:

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