WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. – Exactly one week shy of the first anniversary of Ida Austin’s death a jury has found her son guilty of manslaughter.
James Austin, who faces up to 15 years in prison, remained emotionless – as he has throughout the trial – as the verdict was read just before 4:30 p.m. Tuesday in state Supreme Court in White Plains.
It took the jury a little more than 5½ hours to convict the Hartsdale man of second-degree manslaughter in the death of his 71-year-old mother last July 3. Defense Attorney Earl Raynor said afterwards he plans to appeal the verdict.
“I think it’s very clear from the evidence that he did not create the risk that his mother would die unjustifiably,” Raynor said.
Tuesday’s decision capped just over two weeks of gripping and sometimes graphic testimony by prosecution witnesses.
Assistant District Attorney Lana Hochheiser showed the jury pictures of Ida Austin’s grime-infested living conditions, a video of James Austin’s two-hour interrogation by Greenburgh police and testimony by a high-profile insect expert.
Prosecutors told the jury that when Greenburgh police found the retired medical assistant, she was lying in a pile of feces, urine and insects, dehydrated, covered in sores and starved, weighing just 80 pounds.
They argued that James Austin had legally assumed the role as his mother's caregiver and had neglected his responsibilities, directly resulting in her death. They also contended that Austin mislead police and neighbors about the condition of his mother’s health.
“Instead of reaching out for help, he consciously ignored her declining physical and mental health, leaving her unattended for hours at a time,” District Attorney Janet DiFiore said in a press release after the verdict. “His total abdication of responsibility resulted in utterly abhorrent and deplorable conditions in the home and the ignominious death of his mother.”
The defense attempted to establish that Ida Austin was an ardent believer in Santeria, a West African and Caribbean religion that prevented her from seeking medical help. On Monday, the defense presented its case, calling two witnesses who testified that James Austin was an upstanding citizen with a “rock solid” reputation for following the law and had a good relationship with his mother.
Raynor said Tuesday the crime didn’t fit the punishment.
“Certainty we can quibble about how he took care of his mother in legal terms, but I don’t think it rose to second-degree manslaughter,” he said.
Austin was remanded to the Westchester County Jail, where he has been held on $200,000 bail since his November arrest. He is set to be sentenced Aug. 7.