A volunteer caregiver from Mariaville has been found not guilty of allegedly bilking an elderly uncle suffering from dementia out of $213,000, officials said Monday.
A jury in Hancock County Superior Court in Ellsworth ended several hours of deliberation late Thursday by declaring 58-year-old Lisa Harriman not guilty of theft and misuse of entrusted property, a court clerk said.
Her attorney, John Steed of Blue Hill, expressed satisfaction with the verdict, while Assistant Attorney General Leanne Robbin said the jury’s decision was an early test of a law written in 2013 to protect the elderly that will continue to be enforced.
“I do think it’s great that they prosecute elder abuse and they take it seriously, but the trial raises interesting issues of a person’s autonomy as they get older and begin to decline, and also why we as a society assume that a woman’s role as a caregiver should be done without reward,” Steed said.
“Lisa took care of her uncle for years without pay, and the state viewed every penny she received as theft,” Steed added.
The jurors “were working through a number of difficult issues,” Robbin said. “The statute regarding undue influence and mental conditions and dementia is a fairly recent statute. Ultimately, we were disappointed in the verdict.”
Harriman was acting as an unpaid caregiver to Trenton resident and retired state worker Richard Royal, the husband of her mother’s late sister, when she was accused in 2016 of stealing $213,000 from Royal, a U.S. Navy veteran.
Prosecutors alleged Harriman convinced Royal, who was suffering from dementia, to cash a $150,000 life insurance policy, minus a $37,000 penalty, and wrote herself a $100,000 check from the victim’s bank account.
Harriman, Steed said, got a portion of an estate worth $1.1 million as thanks and payment for slightly less than three years of work.
Before his death in July 2017, the 85-year-old Royal told state investigators that he had no memory of giving Harriman money, but that he would have if she’d asked, because he thought highly of her, Steed said.
“He had no children or causes that he particularly cared about, and Lisa took good care of him and he loved her dearly, as noted by numerous accounts,” Steed said.
The Harriman verdict is the second involving allegations of theft from Royal.
Maine District Court Judge Michael P. Roberts rejected prosecutors’ arguments that Dr. Kathleen Prunier had stolen from Royal when he sold her 5.27 of his 10 acres on Trenton’s Southwest Point for $4,000 in 2014.
Civil court lawsuits filed by the Royal family against Prunier and Harriman are pending.
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