published Friday, June 10th, 2011

Mistrial declared in patient death case

Attorneys in the case against a 43-year-old former health care worker charged with lying to police about a patient’s death will be back in court next month after the three-day trial ended in a hung jury.

“It went pretty good. I thought my attorney did a good job,” said Walter Small, defendant in the Hamilton County Criminal Court case. “But I can’t talk about it too much because they might retry it.”

Small had originally been charged with one count of criminally negligent homicide and three counts of filing false reports in the Nov. 6, 2007, death of Robbie Young, a 31-year-old cerebral palsy patient who weighed 60 pounds when he died. The prosecutor dropped the homicide charge at the start of the trial.

Judge Rebecca Stern eliminated the first of the three false report counts, leaving two counts of false reports for jurors to consider Thursday.

The jury forewoman told Stern that jurors were deadlocked 11-1 not guilty on one count and 10-2 not guilty on the other.

Stern set the next hearing date for July 5.

Young’s aunt, Rita Richey, said after the mistrial that she hopes Small will face another jury.

“It’s disappointing,” she said. “I’ve waited four years. I’m drained but I’m not going to stop.”

Assistant District Attorney Boyd Patterson and Assistant Public Defender Steve Brown declined to comment, saying the case is still pending in the courts.

Small was a caregiver for Young, a patient at the Healthcare Center at Standifer Place.

Young was taken to Erlanger hospital after Small told supervisors his patient was having a seizure. Young he died six days later.

Richey said the family only learned Young had died weeks later when they went to visit him at the Healthcare Center. She contacted doctors and the county medical examiner to have his body exhumed from a pauper’s grave for an autopsy.

Chattanooga police and Tennessee Bureau of Investigation agents looked into the case. During interviews in June and August 2008, Small changed details of what happened to Young, Patterson said. Finally, he said, Small admitted that Young had fallen in the shower and hit his head on a metal bar.

Brown alleged in the trial that two supervisors at Standifer Place told Small to keep quiet about the incident and that the chief nurse, Ted Kirby, would “take care of it.”

Both Kirby and the other supervisor, Choneca Malone, testified that they were not told Young had fallen.

about Todd South...

Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...

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