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Caregiver sentenced to 18 years for 'murder by neglect'

Larry Lee appears at his sentencing in Pierce County courtroom on June 30, 2016. (Photo: KOMO News)

TACOMA, Wash. -- A Spanaway caregiver convicted of murdering an autistic man in his care was sentenced Thursday to 18 years in prison.

A jury earlier this month convicted 51-year-old Larry Lee of second degree murder in the death of 59-year-old George Philip Carter.

In a courtroom twist, Carter's sister actually asked the judge for leniency for Lee.

"I've tried to ask myself 'How would George feel about this trial?' "said Judy Barber, Carter's sister. "And this decision, I'm pretty confident he would be unhappy."

Carter had lived at Lee's home for several years. Lee's ex-wife was a nurse and they ran a licensed home-care business, but when she left, Lee failed to get a new license yet continued to care for Carter while collecting $850 a month, prosecutors said.

On May 15, 2015, medics rushed Carter to the hospital after Lee found him unresponsive. He died several hours later.

Nurses told investigators they found several large, deep pressure wounds and it was the worst case of neglect some had ever seen, according to prosecutors. Carter had huge open sores, stuffed with paper towels and the stench of rotting flesh.

"George didn't want to die this way," said Erika Nohavec, deputy Pierce County prosecutor. "He wouldn't have wanted to die this way. No one would have wanted to die this way. This was an ugly and a painful death."

The jury convicted Lee of 2nd degree murder for the severe form of neglect for not rushing Carter to a doctor.

"It's like a dagger in my heart," Lee told the judge. "And I would never hurt nobody and I would never hurt George."

All sides agreed that Carter, who has autism, loved living in the paid care of Lee and that Carter didn't like going for medical treatment.

But the judge told Lee he should have forced the issue.

"He couldn't dial the phone," said Judge Michael Schwartz. "You could and you didn't and eventually that resulted in George's death."

Despite that, Barber begged the judge for leniency.

"Sadly, his extremely bad decision caused my baby brother his life and I'm real sorry for that and I know Larry is too," Barber said. "But I feel it was never intentional."

The judge declined leniency and sentenced Lee to the high end of the sentencing range.

Nohavec said this type of abuse is more widespread than people know.

"They're often under reported, under investigated and as a result we rarely get to the stage we did in this case," he said.

The Pierce County prosecutor's office has received a $370,000 grant for a three-year program to focus on suspected elder abuse with training police, emergency care responders and the public in how to spot elder abuse and neglect.

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