The odor of a decomposing body filled the Carson City home where Kelly Hein was arrested for suspicion of murdering an elderly woman in her care, Probation Officer Roger Jacobs testified Thursday.
Hein, 33, was ordered to face a murder charge - and alternative charges of elder neglect or abuse causing death - after an evidentiary hearing in a justice courtroom.
Judge John Tatro said a windfall of circumstantial evidence surrounding the death of 79-year-old Iris Barton creates sufficient suspicion that Hein is guilty of the charges. She will stand trial in Judge Michael Griffin's district courtroom.
"I think there's tons of circumstantial evidence," he said in his ruling. Tatro cited testimony that Barton's oxygen and food supplies were inadequate to sustain life, and cited an alleged financial motive for the killing. "The fact that you're named as the beneficiary in her will. That's circumstantial, but it's big."
At the hearing, prosecutors also revealed a theory that Hein had lived at 4722 Blackrock Court with the decomposing body of Barton for almost two months. In a statement made to police on July 20, the date of her arrest, Hein reportedly said Barton had been dead for three weeks when investigators discovered the body.
Prosecutor Anne Langer put witnesses on the stand who said Hein stood to inherit Barton's home and car in the event of her death. Langer also established the state's belief that Barton died when her oxygen was allegedly shut off.
A meter on the machine tracks the number of hours the machine is used. A technician from the company that supplied the doctor-prescribed oxygen testified that during a visit to the home on May 23, the machine registered 8,682 hours. The same number of hours were registered on the meter when it was taken into evidence after Barton's arrest.
To back up the theory, Langer put Barton's physician Timothy Gentner on the stand. He said that he had prescribed oxygen to help treat Barton's intense emphysema, a condition related to a smoking habit. Without a steady stream of machine-generated oxygen, he testified, Barton's life expectancy would likely be cut down.
"Walking across the room without oxygen she couldn't do," he said.
The oxygen prescription called for a stream that would last 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
"She was basically bed-bound, or chair-bound," he said.
Barton's condition brought her to the hospital twice in 1998, he testified. One of those hospitalizations lasted a week. She was released to an assisted living facility, and later opted for home care.
That is when Hein reportedly moved in with Barton under the auspice that she would be caring for the elderly woman in her frail condition, prosecutors believe.
Court documents indicate that Hein lived next door with her husband and two children prior to living with Barton. The family continues to live in the Blackrock Court home.
Thursday's hearing also saw the testimony of Gene Drew, a friend of Hein's who said he purposely led police to the body. He said he had been living at the home until the alleged date of Barton's death. At that time he was arrested for violating parole on a methamphetamine possession charge.
After his release from a drug treatment program, two visits to Barton's home convinced him that her dead body was inside, he said.
"The garage was open and the odor hit us hard," he testified. "I made mention that I believed Iris was possibly dead. It smelled like death."
He said on the night of May 20, previous to his arrest, Hein had gone upstairs to check on Barton who was calling for help. He said Hein was yelling at Barton while the pair were upstairs together. After that, he said, he no longer saw Hein bring Barton food, and he no longer heard Barton's television or oxygen generator.
The body was discovered when officer Jacobs went to the home to search for probationer Kenneth Calihan. Drew testified that he gave Jacobs the tip that Calihan could be found there. Instead, Jacobs and a colleague confronted Hein who was reportedly evasive. A search of the home revealed Barton's body in an upstairs bed.
The body was severely decomposed, showing bone in some areas. Lieutenant Steve Albertsen, Chief Detective on the case, said investigators believe Barton's body was picked up from the floor and placed on the bed.
"I knew that if he went there he may find someone else," Drew said, referring to probation officers. "He may find Iris."
A date for Hein's district court arraignment has not been scheduled. An additional charge of elder abuse, related to suspicion that Hein had been draining money from Hein's bank account, may be pending, Langer said.