Davis Man Convicted of Second Degree Murder in Elder-Abuse Case

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Yolo-Count-Court-Room-600It took a Yolo County jury little time to convict 53-year-old James Mattos of second degree murder.  He was also found guilty of elder abuse likely to cause great bodily harm or death, and theft from an elder or dependent adult.

The jury deliberated for approximately four hours before returning the verdicts.

Deputy District Attorney Jay Linden prosecuted the case and praised the verdicts. “Today we got justice for a victim who had no voice,” said Linden. “This was a sad case but the jury spoke loudly in holding the defendant accountable.”

The Honorable Stephen Mock, who presided over the trial, will sentence Mattos on May 16, 2014, at 8:30 am. Mattos faces 37 years to life in prison.

Earlier story:

Jury Hears Closing Arguments in Davis Elder-Abuse/Murder Trial

By Michelle Yegiyants

On April 16, 2014, James Mattos sat in the quaint, ornate courtroom of Department 3 in the Yolo County Superior Court, restlessly looking on as his lawyer Emily Fisher and prosecutor Jay Linden painted very different pictures of Mr. Mattos’s role as caregiver in the death of his developmentally delayed, 66-year-old relative Cecil Wachholtz.

As the captivated jury and the Honorable Judge Stephen Mock listened attentively, the prosecution and defense presented their closing arguments, reminding all in attendance of key evidence presented in the trial and persuading the audience to adopt an interpretation favorable to their respective positions.

Based on evidence of the victim’s prolonged deterioration, as well as testimony from Detective Jennifer Davis and several physicians who had examined Mr. Wachholtz prior to and after his death, Deputy District Attorney Jay Linden argued that the defendant should be found guilty on three counts – murder in the second degree, elder abuse likely to produce great bodily injury or death, and theft from an elder or dependent adult.

With regard to the first count of murder in the second degree, Linden addressed two components of the charge: whether the defendant’s failure to perform a legal duty caused the death of another person, and whether or not the defendant acted with malice.

Linden asserted that the defendant had violated California Penal Code section 368, which states that a caretaker, meaning “any person who has the care, custody, or control of, or who stands in a position of trust with, an elder or a dependent adult,” has a legal duty to care for that individual.

According to the prosecution, Mattos had failed in his duties as caretaker.  Evidence brought forth in the earlier stages of the trial revealed that the defendant had not taken Cecil to a doctor in 3-4 years, and had not filled Cecil’s prescriptions since January 2007.  According to a pathologist, Cecil, weighing a startlingly low 70 pounds at the time of his death, ultimately died from septic shock, which was the result of being malnourished and dehydrated due to a lack of proper care.

DDA Linden addressed the question of malice by asserting that in this case, the malice was implied, and can be inferred from the defendant’s criminal negligence toward Cecil Wachholtz.  When asked why he had not taken Cecil to the hospital, the defendant is reported to have replied, “He’s just an old man dying.”

This statement was an integral aspect of the prosecution’s closing statement, serving as evidence of the defendant’s conscious disregard for the victim’s life.  Moreover, and perhaps more significantly, the statement from the defendant also served as a compelling reminder to the jury that Cecil did not have to be “just an old man dying,” and it was because of the defendant that Cecil died in a condition the prosecuting attorney later equated to that of a “Holocaust survivor.”

Prosecutor Jay Linden also addressed the question of why James Mattos is responsible for Cecil’s death and not his mother Darlene, who was officially Cecil’s legal conservator.  Linden argued that while Darlene’s failure to check on Cecil may have contributed to his death, it is the defendant who didn’t clean, feed, or hydrate Cecil, and it is the defendant whose negligence led to the death of Cecil Wachholtz.

In terms of the third count of theft from an elder or dependent adult, Linden reminded the audience of evidence indicating the defendant’s failure to appropriately use the money he himself requested for Cecil’s food, clothing, and medicine.

Upon investigation of the trailer home where the defendant and Cecil Wachholtz resided, it was clear, based on the lack of clothing and the fact that Cecil’s prescriptions hadn’t been filled since 2009, that the fixed monthly income the defendant had requested from Cecil’s trust fund for clothing and medicine had not been used for those purposes.

Thus, Linden asserted, “to argue that Cecil died from some other reason than neglect would be contrary to the evidence in this trial.”  And with one dramatic before/after picture of Cecil Wachholtz taken prior to living with the defendant, alongside a tragic image of Cecil just before his death, Linden ended his closing argument with a final pull at the heartstrings of the audience, calling for a verdict of guilty on all three counts.

When Deputy Public Defender Emily Fisher presented her closing argument, she painted a very different picture of the defendant than the one offered by the deputy district attorney.  As an uneducated, unskilled man who himself was dependent on his mother Darlene before moving into a trailer with Cecil, James Mattos was in no way qualified to care for Cecil.

According to Fisher, it was Darlene’s responsibility – as Cecil’s legal conservator she had medical authority over his affairs – and she put the responsibility on her son, the defendant, because she “wanted to get both Cecil and James out of her hair.”

Despite his inadequacies, Fisher argued that her client, James Mattos, still attempted to care for Cecil by feeding him soup (chunks of which were later found in Cecil’s lungs).  He had no motive for wanting Cecil dead, and in fact called 911 when Cecil’s deteriorating health became apparent; thus Mattos had no malice aforethought.

Fisher asserted that, though the events that transpired were very tragic, her client could not be convicted of second-degree murder because he had no malice aforethought, was an inept and inadequate caretaker who basically took over his mother’s role to help her out, and thus should only be as guilty as his mother Darlene, who was charged with violating Penal Code section 368(b) (1).

Fisher brought up the circumstantial nature of the prosecution’s use of the defendant’s statement, “He’s just an old man dying,” as evidence of his malice aforethought.  Due to the fact that this particular comment could provide different inferences, one pointing to guilt and the other pointing to innocence, the jury is bound by law to choose the one that points to innocence, in accordance with the definition of the phrase, “Beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Fisher concluded her remarks with a plea to the jury, “Do not let bias or sympathy or public opinion influence your decision.”

This was not the first time in the course of this trial that the defense attorney brought up concerns for objectivity regarding the defendant’s trial.  In the earlier stages of the trial proceedings, Fisher had asked Judge Mock to excuse juror number 1 from the stand, due to the fact that this juror had known the victim, Cecil Wachholtz, for a number of years.

When Fisher asked juror number 1 if she could act as an impartial juror despite her personal involvement with the case, the juror replied, “I could be 100% objective if he was a stranger, but … there’s a certain amount of subjectivity that comes into how a person thinks.”

When Fisher posed the question a second time, juror number 1 replied after a long pause that she would give the defendant a fair trial. Judge Mock decided that there was no legal basis to excuse juror number 1, interpreting her pause in responding to Fisher’s question as the result of thoughtful deliberation.

Ultimately, only time will tell the impact of juror number 1’s presence on the verdict in this case.  As the jury deliberates, the public will soon see which depiction of the defendant is deemed credible.

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About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch operates in Yolo, Sacramento and Sacramento Counties with a mission to monitor and report on court cases. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org - please email info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org if you find inaccuracies in this report.

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14 thoughts on “Davis Man Convicted of Second Degree Murder in Elder-Abuse Case”

  1. D.D.

    On this Good Friday, I’m a little sad that the green -waste- in- the- street article rec’d 120 comments, but an old man dying received less. Peace, everyone.

  2. Tia Will

    I have some questions about this situation.
    1. How does one become named a legal conservator ?
    2. What is the vetting process to determine if the individual is appropriate for this position ?
    3. Once one is designated, what kind of process exists to make sure that adequate care is being provided ?
    4. What oversight applies when the conservator appoints another individual to do the actual care giving ?

    I realize that this is a single case of two individuals failing to perform duties that they had freely accepted presumably for their own gain. However, as a practitioner with an interest in primary prevention, I am wondering what safe guards are in place to prevent this kind of exploitation and whether or not these safeguards are amenable to strengthening.

  3. D.D.

    Tia, I know someone who works in the legal dept. at Social Services. I believe they have a huge amount of people to watch over. It’s a situation of – it takes a village. If everyone would just “ask yourself to care”, the community would be a lot happier, and safer. Peace.

  4. Tia Will

    D.D.

    ” It’s a situation of – it takes a village. If everyone would just “ask yourself to care”, the community would be a lot happier, and safer.”

    I could not agree more. But do you recall how much flack Hillary Clinton got for her book of this title for promoting the idea that the well being of our society depends upon the willingness of each individual to contribute what they are able to, not only for their own well being, but also for the well being of the entire society ?

    Maybe, if our society were willing to provide an above the poverty line compensation to everyone providing care and for those overseeing these programs, we would see fewer of these cases. Just thought I would tie this into the topic of another current thread.

    1. D.D.

      I recall, somewhar painfully, the crap they gave Hillary. One pont she was rying to make in her book: she visited a community where the Moms felt perfectly comfortable leaving their strollers with babies on the sidewalk while they enjoyed a coffee inside a cafe. It was in another country. What Mom, even in Davis, would leave their baby in a stroller on the sidewalk outside of, say, Crepeville? It’s daunting….

  5. Antoinnette

    I do think Mr. Matos’s mother should have been held to the same accountability….She had to know her son was not capable of taking good care of himself, much less a disabled man. There was little effort to find adequate care…this should never have happened.

    Justice..was partially served.

  6. David Greenwald

    I personally think there were a lot of failures in this case. The victim may have gone down the hill quickly, but who was looking after him, overseeing that he was being properly cared for. Second degree murder implies malice and I’m just not clear that that’s what happened here.

    1. Tia Will

      “The victim may have gone down the hill quickly”

      While this may have been true in the end stage of organ failure, there was by Antoinette’s coverage, ample opportunity to realize that the victim’s condition was deteriorating over a period of months if not years.
      Medically speaking, one does not go from normal size to emaciated overnight. One does not develop pressure ulcers overnight, but rather over the course of weeks to months. There was ample opportunity for a competent conservator, acting to provide nutritional and medical care to realize that the situation was deteriorating and to seek medical assistance. I don’t think it would be possible to sort out whether this was not done due to gross incompetence ( in which case the victim should have been under the care of a competent conservator) or whether it was done to assure continued access to the victim’s money ( in which case malice might be a real consideration).

      I agree with Don that this is a very sad case, however, it is one in which I think the bigger sadness stems from our unwillingness to accept responsibility as a community for not providing an adequate living for the people that we charge with the care of our most vulnerable. What kind of stipend do caregivers receive for care of children, the disabled, and the elderly ? Does this stipend allow them to live above the poverty level ? What kinds of oversight and or assistance do they receive ?

      It is my understanding that non related individuals are in some way compensated for care of the above groups whereas family members are not. This discrepancy along opens the possibility for neglect of dependents, sometimes deliberate, but sometimes inadvertent as the responsible adult must balance work outside the home with the care of the disabled. Can we really, as a society, not do better than this ?

      I wish that some of the very bright individuals who want to “laser focus” on the economy, would also be willing to
      expend some of that “laser focus” on the health and wellness needs of our community members. I do not believe that these two issues are separable as some seem to believe.

  7. tj

    Yes, it’s amazing that there is often little comment on these issues, which include not just the victims but also the integrity of our judicial system. Jury selection is not done in public, it’s done by computer, out of sight, and it’s easy and happens in other jurisdictions, that one or more names, of people who are paid or coerced to bring in the verdict, are placed in the pool for nefarious reasons.
    Was it just a sloppy oversight by the court that the victim was not well enough identified to begin with, that juror #1 said she didn’t know she knew him? Why did the DA and Judge Mock want to keep her on the jury when there were surely some alternate jurors? Food for thought here.

    Regarding Tia Will’s questions, the state funds county social services to provide “in home support services” for the disabled and elderly. Payments top out at about $3000 per month for caretakers who work/supervise 24-hours a day, every day. So, the hourly pay for all those hours isn’t very much, about $4 or so, but the caretaker can sleep, eat, etc. much of that time, as long as the person is getting the help and attention they need. Of course money for food, clothes, housing, utilities, transportation, etc is not included, the person receiving care would have some income of their own, at least about $850 month from SSI.

    The Governor’s current budget plan will reduce full time caretaker pay to less than $2000 per month.
    Anyone concerned about this can use the Governor’s website and voice their opinion, or write a letter and mail it to the Governor. The plan has been kept very quiet.

    Conservators are appointed by the local court and conservators have to make periodic reports to the court.
    It would be interesting to see the court records of this case. There was a big expose by the LA Times about 10 years ago or so, about conservatorships going bad, as this one did.
    One solution would be to have social workers from the county go out to check routinely on all conservatees.

  8. Antoinnette

    There were no shortage of funds. Cecil had plenty of money in his trust account to take very good care if him. But it was not done. Doing in home health care for over twenty plus years, myself..I know how tedious and physically, emotionally and mentally draining it can be but my patients were always well taken care of, clean, fed and kept comfortable as best as we could do until they left us. But in this situation, I think it was too much for them. It does not excuse allowing him to waste away. However, intent to kill him may be iffy, at best. Albiet, common sense should tell us if we dont eat, drink or bathe, deterioration is likely going to be the end result…thus causing expiration.

  9. D.D.

    My daughter & I were recently musing about what, if any, difference we can make in this huge world She lives in a large city & has chosen to bike to work, school, in the bike lane. I’m scared for her, but proud, too. We wondered, in our conversation, if everyone would just watch out for their neighbor on each side of them, would the world be safer, and happier? Just TWO houses: one on each side of you. What would our world look like, if we all just did that? Just that, nothing more.

  10. D.D.

    A few years ago, my sisters and I had to place my mother, with slight dementia, into a home in the bay area. My deceased dad’s pension and very careful savings provided my mom with a top notch facility. But it broke our hearts to think about all the folks who could not afford my mom’s facility. My sister lived one exit away on the freeway, and frequently made surprise, unannounced visits at all hours of the day and night. (They always welcomed her. )No matter how expensive the facility, you must be diligent in your investigation of it. And you must point blank ask the Director how much they are paying the aids. If the person taking care of your parent is making close to minimum wage, how well will they take care of your parent? It’s the same concept as daycare for your baby. Ask the director: how much are the workers being paid? If they refuse to tell you, run, don’
    t walk, out of there with your baby.

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