Amelia Wade is a court reporter for the New Zealand Herald

Woman jailed for 12 years for letting mother starve to death

Cindy Taylor was today sentenced in the High Court at Auckland after being found guilty of manslaughter.
Cindy Taylor was today sentenced in the High Court at Auckland after being found guilty of manslaughter.

A daughter who let her elderly mother starve to death has been sent to prison for 12 years for her manslaughter.

Ena Lai Dung, 76, was discovered in bed on a tarpaulin, lying in her own excrement, naked from the waist down, surrounded by flies, at a South Auckland address where she was a boarder, when emergency services were called on January 16 last year.

She weighed just 29kg when she died.

Her daughter, Cindy Melissa Taylor, 43, was today sentenced in the High Court at Auckland after being found guilty of manslaughter and two charges of dishonestly using a document by a jury in August.

She denied failing to provide her mother with the necessary care to keep her alive.

Justice Edwin Wylie today said it was difficult to imagine death in worse or more degrading circumstances and sentenced her to 12 years in prison for manslaughter and 18 months, to be served cumulatively, for the dishonesty counts.

Luana Roberta Taylor, 56, and her husband, Brian Frank Taylor, 62 - not related to the other defendant - lived in the same house in Clendon Park and denied failing to protect a vulnerable adult.

Luana Taylor was today jailed for six years and three months and Brian Taylor to six years.

The jury also found Brian and Luana Taylor guilty of failing to protect a vulnerable adult.

During the trial the court heard from a paramedic who found Dung lying dead, covered in her own excrement, who described her as looking like a "scarecrow".

Dung also had 14 broken ribs and sternum but no medical assistance was sought. She was left on a plastic sheet in her own urine and faeces, causing her to suffer chemical burns, and was given no pain relief.

She had bed sores, one which penetrated through to the bone and another which was gangrenous.

At the time of her death, the 76-year-old had gone four to five days without water and up to 15 days without food during the height of summer.

At sentencing this morning, the court heard a victim impact statement from Dung's sister which was read by her son.

"I'm so hurt Cindy that you could allow this to happen to your mother."

She said she has nightmares about her sister's death and cries when she thinks about her suffering - her brother couldn't even come to the court for the trial or sentencing.

The family also has to relive what happened to Dung each time friends come to visit.

"It's always on my mind."

Whatever Dung had done in her life, she didn't deserve to die in the way that she did, she said.

Crown prosecutor Natalie Walker said it was "a dreadful case of neglect" but because failing to protect a vulnerable adult was a relatively new charge there was no precedent for sentencing.

"It's the first case of its kind to come before New Zealand courts."

She submitted a starting point of 10 to 12 years in prison for Cindy Taylor was appropriate after looking at the "very sad facts of this case" and the aggravating features.

Those included the failure to seek medical assistance for her mother's fractured ribs and sternum which would have been "extremely painful", that she was left alone on a mattress and to lie in her own bodily waste, the extent of dehydration and malnutrition, the weight loss and emotional abuse.

"She would have had a very lonely and isolated life," Walker said.

The defendants were also not in a position where they were underprivileged and had a "relatively high quality of life" where they could buy possessions, food and alcohol.

"This was not a house where there was great underprivilege at all."

Cindy Taylor's lawyer, Peter Kaye, said  his client was hardworking and didn't have a criminal history so her sentence should not be "so crushing" that it offered her no hope.

Luana Taylor's lawyer, Maria Mortimer, said her client didn't know the extent of the neglect, there was no duty to take on Dung's care, she was remorseful and being in a wheelchair would make prison harder for her. She submitted a sentence of home detention would be sufficient.

Brian Taylor's lawyer, Louise Freyer, said he maintained his innocence and a final sentence of no more than 22 months would be appropriate.

Justice Wylie said photos of Dung's body were "harrowing" and her clothes had effectively fused to her body through her sores.

He said Cindy Taylor had failed to provide her mother with the necessities of life when she was unable to move or feed herself and had Dung been given proper care, she would still be alive.

'Her death was long, painful and unnecessary and it is difficult to imagine death in worse or more degrading circumstances."

She must have known her mother had fallen more than once, was in "extreme pain" and Dung's condition worsened because she failed "to look after her properly".

Dung's basic human dignity was ignored and Cindy Taylor's failure to address her mother's needs was "cruel and callous in the extreme".

"She died as a result of your neglect," Justice Wylie said.

He sentenced her to 12 years in prison for manslaughter and 18 months total for the two dishonesty charges to be served cumulatively, leaving an end sentence of 13 years and three months.

Turning to Luana and Brian Taylor, he said they were aware of Dung's condition and suffering, witnessed the physical and verbal abuse and could not have been unaware of the strong smell of urine and rotting flesh.

Brian Taylor bought the green plastic sheet Dung was found on and air fresheners to cover the smell.

"Neither of you did anything, rather you turned a blind eye to Ms Dung's obvious suffering."

Justice Wylie adopted a starting point of six years and six months for Luana Taylor because he considered her to be more culpable than her husband as she was the "controlling influence" in the household and attempted to conceal her offending.

He gave her a discount for remorse leaving an end sentence of six years and three months.

The judge set a starting point of six years for Brian Taylor and did not give any reductions.

Justice Wylie said he needed to hold each of the defendants responsible for their offending, denounce their conduct and deter others.

- NZ Herald

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