Friday, December 24, 2010

Indiana couple faces homicide charges in neglect death of paraplegic man

From The Tribune-Star in Ind.:

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. — A Terre Haute couple has been arrested in connection with the Dec. 3 death of a wheelchair-bound man in their care, and Vigo County Coroner Dr. Roland Kohr has ruled the death a homicide.

Joseph J. Rheubottom Jr., 52, and his wife Melissa Rheubottom, 41, were arrested Dec. 20 by Terre Haute Police after an investigation into the death of James Cliff, 46, whose living conditions were deemed “horrid” by police.

The couple, who resided in the 300 block of North 14th Street with Cliff, were the primary caregivers of the paraplegic man, who was Joseph Rheubottom’s half-brother. Cliff was pronounced dead at Union Hospital on Dec. 3 after being transported there by Terre Haute Fire Department ambulance.

According to a probable cause affidavit filed in Vigo Superior Court 1, Cliff had multiple open wounds on his body, including a wound on his right hip where bare bone was exposed. An autopsy determined that infection from the wounds caused Cliff to contract pneumonia, which caused his death.

“His state was horrid,” Assistant Police Chief Shawn Keen told the Tribune-Star, describing Cliff’s physical status as well as the roach-infested house, which was also home to seven cats, five dogs and a bird. Police saw animal feces all over the floor of the residence, as well as human feces in Cliff’s wheelchair and on the couch and bed where he slept. Police also saw rotting food in the kitchen and experienced an overwhelmingly foul odor in the home. Cliff also appeared not to have been bathed for a long time.

Siblings of Cliff told police that the man had weighed around 280 pounds about a year ago when he went to live with the Rheubottoms. The autopsy reported Cliff’s weight at around 140 pounds.

Keen said that since the man’s death, police have been conducting interviews with relatives and building the criminal case. On Dec. 17, police sought the arrest warrants, and the couple was taken into custody Monday afternoon. Their bail has been set at $75,000 cash only.

They were scheduled to appear in Superior Court 1 Dec. 21.