In one of its last acts of the decade, the Oregon Court of Appeals overturned the 2016 manslaughter conviction of a 49-year-old woman from Bend, Oregon, who admitted to smothering her grandmother with a pillow. The Oregon manslaughter appeal succeeded largely due to the legality of allowing the accused’s therapist to testify to statements made that should have been protected by doctor-client privilege according to The Oregonian.
According to the text of the Oregon manslaughter appeal, Angela Judd was a registered nurse and a caregiver for her grandmother, Nada Bodholdt, for several years prior to the murder. During that time, Judd had paid for grandmother’s rent and had told courts that she was worried about the cost of Bodholdt’s “care and housing.” Shortly before her death, Bodholdt had entered hospice care at a Bend, OR, nursing home.
According to the Oregon manslaughter appeal, on Dec. 31, 2015, the day of her death, Nada Bodholdt was “conversational, alert, and seemed to be in little pain.” Approximately 12 hours before Nada Bodholdt died, Angela Judd canceled all services her grandmother received, including meals. That night, Nada Bodholdt passed away and Angela Judd reported the passing was from natural causes.
Several weeks after this event, Angela Judd sought out counseling services through her employee assistance program. During a counseling session with counselor Wendy Jones, Judd informed Jones that her grandmother’s condition had deteriorated and Judd worried she would suffer.
According to a statement from the court included in the Oregon manslaughter appeal, “Defendant told Jones that she emotionally struggled with what to do about (Bodholdt’s) condition before deciding to kill her.” Judd then “stroked” her grandmother’s face, told her she loved her for the last time, and smothered her with a pillow while the elderly woman struggled. Angela Judd told counselor Jones that she was “angry, guilty, and ashamed” about what she had done.
As part of Oregon elder abuse law, Wendy Jones immediately reported the disclosure to local police as she was mandated to do and Angela Judd was later arrested and charged with murder. Judd managed to instead plead guilty to second-degree manslaughter in the end. Because Judd entered a conditional guilty plea, her right to appeal the court’s ruling about her counselor’s ability to testify against her was preserved until it could be tried. Following the lower court’s ruling, Judd received 75 months in prison: a sentence that would have seen her released in May 2022.
The Oregon manslaughter appeal, which was filed as part of Judd’s conditional guilty plea, sought legal clarification on whether counselor Wendy Jones was legally permitted to testify in the trial. In its ruling shortly after Christmas, the Oregon appeals court concluded that under the state’s elder abuse statute, the counselor was permitted to make an initial report to authorities, but that beyond that initial report, Wendy Jones was not allowed to testify in Angela Judd’s case. With this legal point clarified and exempting Wendy Jones’ testimony, the appeals court overturned Angela Judd’s manslaughter charges and her sentence.
In the wake of the Oregon manslaughter appeal results, a spokeswoman for the Oregon Department of Justice on Dec. 27, said the agency had not decided whether to ask the Oregon Supreme Court to review the ruling. Meanwhile, the appeals judge’s decision made waves throughout the community as to whether Judd deserved to walk free. Ultimately, because of the circumstances surrounding the conviction, the right person may have been convicted in the wrong way.
For more information about wrongful nursing home deaths and how to move forward with a claim, visit the National Association of Nursing Home Attorneys’ Wrongful Death Page.