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Trial begins in alleged elder-abuse death

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From page A1 | April 09, 2014 |

james matthew mattosW

Jams Mattos is led away from the Yolo County Courthouse on Tuesday. Sue Cockrell/Enterprise photo

WOODLAND — It was the stench that first assaulted Jennifer Davis’ senses.

“There was a very strong odor of urine and an overall odor I would describe as rot — a filthy odor,” Davis, a Yolo County sheriff’s detective, testified in court Tuesday about the scene she encountered at 118 Hedy Lane in South Davis on the night of Oct. 13, 2012.

Then came the squalor, which Davis later would describe in her reports as “deplorable.”

Hours earlier, first responders had trudged through trash and animal droppings to reach the frail, unresponsive body of Cecil Wachholtz, a 66-year-old mentally impaired man whose caretaker, James Matthew Mattos, is standing trial on second-degree murder and elder abuse charges this week in Yolo Superior Court.

Once weighing more than 200 pounds, Wachholtz had wasted away to less than half that by the time Mattos called 911 that October evening. Wachholtz’s body was covered in bedsores “that went all the way through his skin,” Deputy District Attorney Jay Linden told a jury of six men and six women in his opening statement Tuesday.

Wachholtz died of septic shock — the infection of multiple organs — two weeks later in Sutter Davis Hospital’s intensive-care unit. In court Tuesday, Linden displayed photographs taken at the hospital of Wachholtz’s numerous bedsores, as well as an infection that had ravaged one of his legs.

Linden said the 53-year-old Mattos, whose family had cared for Wachholtz for nearly five decades, failed to provide medical care or proper nutrition for the elderly man during the four years they lived in the Hedy Lane trailer, despite receiving regular income from a trust fund set up specifically for Wachholtz’s care.

Davis firefighters who responded to Mattos’ 911 call found Wachholtz lying on a bare and soiled mattress, clad only in an adult diaper “that you will hear had not been changed in quite some time,” Linden told the jury.

When asked by his sister why he hadn’t taken Wachholtz to see a doctor, Mattos replied, “Well, he’s just an old man dying,” the prosecutor said.

But defense attorney Emily Fisher contends much of the blame for Wachholtz’s demise lies with her client’s mother, Darlene Mattos, who remained Wachholtz’s conservator but transferred his care to her son when it became too overwhelming for her.

“This is a very sad case all around. But it’s not a case about murder,” Fisher said in her opening remarks.

Originally charged with involuntary manslaughter alongside her son, Darlene Mattos, 78, pleaded no contest last week to elder abuse by means likely to cause death. She is scheduled to testify as a prosecution witness during the trial and is due for sentencing in May.

According to Fisher, James Mattos learned what he knew about caregiving from his mother, a former nurse, and relied on her for advice after he and Wachholtz moved from the longtime family home on Miller Drive to the Hedy Lane trailer.

“He saw what she did and how she did it. … If he (Wachholtz) didn’t want something, she would leave it at that,” Fisher said of efforts to feed Wachholtz and take him to doctor’s appointments. She said when Wachholtz refused to eat, Darlene Mattos suggested her son liquefy soup in a blender for his twice-a-day feedings.

After Wachholtz’s health took a turn for the worse, James Mattos suggested dipping into the $226,000 trust fund to hire an in-home nursing service, but “for whatever reason, Darlene Mattos never ended up taking any steps to do that,” Fisher told the jury.

Davis, the sheriff’s detective, testified Tuesday that her review of banking statements showed Darlene Mattos continued to receive $2,500 monthly payments from the trust fund, some or all of which she would transfer to her son.

But when Davis tried to question Darlene Mattos about those financial details at her Rancho Yolo residence following Wachholtz’s death, James Mattos, who also was there, “would yell to Mrs. Mattos not to talk to me, not to give me information,” Davis said.

The defense’s characterization of Darlene Mattos struck a nerve with her daughter-in-law Jan Mattos and granddaughter Amanda Mattos, both of whom were in court to observe Tuesday’s proceedings.

“She was very concerned about Cecil,” doing what she could to assist with his care, Jan Mattos said in an interview outside the courtroom. She noted that her mother-in-law had worked as a surgical nurse as opposed to a registered nurse, and “there’s a big difference.”

Both relatives said they were shocked to see the photographs of Wachholtz’s malnourished, sore-ridden body, remembering him as a friendly, outgoing man who liked to ride his bike and perform odd jobs around Davis.

“I knew what had happened, but seeing the actual physical effects is horrifying,” Amanda Mattos said.

— Reach Lauren Keene at lkeene@davisenterprise.net or 530-747-8048. Follow her on Twitter at @laurenkeene

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