WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. – A Hartsdale man charged with neglecting his mother as she slowly died on their living room couch told police he saw maggots and gnats on her body in the weeks leading up to her death.
In a video of his July 2011 interrogation by Greenbrugh detectives, played Wednesday in state Supreme Court, James Austin said he had given his 71-year-old mother, Ida Austin, two cans of Raid to fight off the insects that swarmed around her body.
She hadn’t moved from the red sofa in over five months before she died, he said, and spent the last week of her life refusing to wear adult diapers, urinating on herself and the couch.
“She didn’t want help,” Austin said in the video when Detective Ed Demelo asked why he hadn’t sought medical attention. “She didn’t want anybody to see her in that condition.”
Austin, who lived with his mother for over a decade and was her primary caregiver, was arrested in November and charged with manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide. His mother died last summer.
When police found the retired medical assistant, they said she was lying in a pile of feces, urine and insects, dehydrated, covered in sores and starved, weighing just 80 pounds.
Earlier this week, prosecutors showed the jury pictures of the couch and living room where Ida Austin passed away. They said it was one of the most gut-wrenching scenes they had ever come across.
On Thursday, the third day of the trial, Austin was dressed in a black suit coat, blue button down shirt, jeans and white sneakers. He sat silently in the defendant’s chair, watching his own interrogation. In that video, he calmly told police how his mother was bedridden after a stroke and other health problems rendered the left side of her body useless.
The Westchester County Airport ground-crew handler told police he had put a plastic bag next to where his mother lay so she would have somewhere to drop her used toilet paper. He said he had found food stashed away in the cushions of the red couch.
“She stopped taking care of herself,” Austin told detectives. “She didn’t eat. We all saw that.”
According to defense attorney Earl Raynor, Austin was simply following his mother’s wishes. Raynor said Ida Austin was a religious woman who refused treatment, even as she withered to 80 pounds, turning instead to Santeria to heal her.
The sicker she became, the more she clung to that belief, Raynor has said.
But when Assistant District Attorney Lana Hochheiser asked Demelo if he had ever heard Austin mention religion as the reason he neglected his mother’s care, either in the two-hour interrogation or in other conversations, Demelo said no.
“Absolutely not,” he testified.
If convicted, Austin faces up to 15 years in prison.