WOODLAND — Someone is to blame for the death of Cecil Wachholtz.
Yolo County prosecutors believe that blame lies with his final caretaker, James Matthew Mattos, whose failure to properly feed, bathe or seek medical care for the mentally impaired 67-year-old brought on the multiple ailments that killed him, they say.
“The defendant had one job, and one job only — to take care of Cecil Wachholtz, and he didn’t do it,” Deputy District Attorney Jay Linden told a six-man, six-woman jury during his closing argument Wednesday in Mattos’ second-degree murder trial. “The defendant’s failure to do his legal duty was what caused Cecil Wachholtz’s death.”
To Mattos’ defense attorney, however, the fault lies squarely with Mattos’ mother Darlene, Wachholtz’s legal conservator, and other relatives who led an incompetent Mattos to believe he was doing an adequate job of caring for the older man in his filthy Hedy Lane trailer.
James Mattos “knew he was in over his head and tried to reach out for help,” Deputy Public Defender Emily Fisher said in her closing remarks. “Mr. Mattos isn’t doing anything because everyone’s telling him it’s fine until … the medical issue is in his face.”
Mattos, 53, has pleaded not guilty to the charges against him, which in addition to the murder charge include elder abuse and financial theft from an elder, the latter count stemming from the $2,500 in trust-fund proceeds he received for — but allegedly failed to apply to — Wachholtz’s care.
Both sides agreed on at least one thing — that the Oct. 27, 2012, death marked a sad end for Wachholtz, who despite his developmental disabilities was known for his independence in the Davis community, biking around town and making regular appearances at the local Moose Lodge. He had been cared for by the Mattos family for five decades, with James Mattos assuming the caretaker role from his mother sometime in 2008.
By the time he arrived at Sutter Davis Hospital two weeks before he died, Wachholtz was little more than skin and bones, weighing about 70 pounds and covered in bedsores both fresh and healed.
His cause of death was listed as septic shock — the infection of multiple organs — with aspiration pneumonia, severe malnutrition and hypothermia listed as other significant conditions. The case was ruled a homicide due to the alleged caregiver neglect.
But did Mattos’ actions — or lack of them — amount to malice aforethought, the legal requirement for a second-degree murder verdict?
Yes, said Linden, who noted that Mattos admitted to investigators his knowledge that Wachholtz suffered from blindness and dementia, as well as high blood pressure that had gone untreated for years.
“He knew Cecil was dying, and he chose not to take him to the doctor” as a reasonable person would do, Linden told the jury Wednesday. When confronted about that by his sister, Mattos’ alleged response was, “He’s just an old man dying.”
“That displays the conscious disregard for the life of Cecil Wachholtz,” the prosecutor added.
Fisher, however, saw things differently.
“That’s a statement that says, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing,’ ” the defense attorney said of Mattos’ alleged remark. She reminded jurors that her client tried to feed liquefied soup to an uncooperative Wachholtz, and that it was Mattos who dialed 911 when the elderly man became unresponsive.
In the end, Mattos found himself arrested and on trial, while the relatives who refused to help him inherited Wachholtz’s $226,000 trust fund, Fisher said. If anything, she added, Mattos is guilty of elder abuse by means likely to cause death — the same charge his 78-year-old mother admitted to earlier this month in a plea deal with prosecutors.
Linden, who carries the burden of proof in the case and thus got the final say, dismissed Fisher’s argument as “the blame game.” Although James Mattos was not a conservator, Linden said, there was nothing stopping him from seeking medical aid for Wachholtz as his condition visibly deteriorated.
“Could (Darlene) have done more? Yes. But she’s not the one that let Cecil die,” Linden said in his rebuttal. Mattos “let that man rot, lie in his bed and starve to death while he took his $2,500 a month and gave him nothing in return.”
The jury received the case at about 4 p.m. Wednesday. Deliberations resumed at 9 a.m. today.
— Reach Lauren Keene at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8048. Follow her on Twitter at @laurenkeene