Unless prosecutors are willing to concede, Kelly Sue Hein - the Carson City woman accused of murdering an elderly woman in her care - will take her case to trial, her attorney Ben Walker said Tuesday.
This comes after Hein, 33, pleaded innocent to all three charges in Judge Michael Griffin's district courtroom during a Monday morning arraignment. Griffin set a trial date for April 10 in the case.
Walker said evidence that Hein murdered 79-year-old Iris Barton, or even caused her death, is based solely on circumstance. "There is no gray area here," he said. "The autopsy did not determine a cause of death."
Prosecutors have said Hein murdered Barton in her Blackrock Court home by starving her or depriving her of doctor-prescribed oxygen. Additionally, Hein is being charged with elder neglect or, in the alternate, elder abuse causing death. Possible penalties include life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
Walker said prosecutor Anne Langer is relying on the testimony of Gene Drew, an admitted drug addict who lived with Hein during the time Barton is alleged to have died.
He testified at an Aug. 3 preliminary hearing that Hein did not feed Barton with any regularity, and that she left Barton in the home for days at a time while she left to go gambling, or on weekend trips. It is unknown whether Barton was bedridden, or if she could fend for herself, Walker said.
The prosecution is also relying on a doctor's testimony that Barton needed oxygen to live. Walker said the same doctor testified that Barton, two years previous to her death, was diagnosed with terminal emphysema.
"The doctor testified (at the preliminary hearing) that she could have died of natural causes," he said.
Barton's body was found July 20 by parole and probation officers who were directed to Barton's home in their search for a probationer. While searching the home, Justin Smith, Hein's boyfriend, opened a door to a room where Barton's decomposing body lay on the foot of a bed.
The level of decomposition, prosecutors said, conflicts with Hein's version of when Barton died. They say she died two months, rather than three weeks, before the body was discovered.
The body is currently being stored at Walton's funeral home while prosecutors continue testing to determine if death was drug induced.
Hein, her estranged husband and children, lived next door to Barton before Barton's husband Gene died in 1998. Barton was temporarily placed in an assisted living facility until Hein agreed to move in and take care of her. That was in June of 1998.
During the two years they lived together, Langer alleged that Hein drained money from Barton's pension and fraudulently used her credit card.
Walker said the publicity surrounding the case may warrant the possibility of a request to move the trial out of Carson City, a circumstance he wants to avoid, he said.
"I would prefer not to move the case, but if you can't seat a jury, that's something we should look at."