A Michigan woman was found guilty of vulnerable adult abuse for keeping her disabled adult sister locked in a 4x8 foot closet in squalid conditions for years, WNEM reported.
Police discovered the abuse more than two years ago when they visited Candy Lawson’s home on a welfare check of her adoptive sister, who is deaf and has other cognitive and physical disabilities. They found the sister, Dianna Churchill, 42, locked in a 4x8 foot closet with meager amounts of food and a bucket for a toilet.
Churchill weighed only about 70 pounds when she was discovered by police. She had been kept in that state for seven years, police alleged. She was so dirty when she was discovered, prosecutors said, that nurses had difficulty cleaning her because soap irritated her skin.
In addition to adult abuse, Lawson was found guilty of unlawful imprisonment, as well as embezzlement. Lawson was accused of misusing government benefits intended for aid in taking care of her sister.
Police reportedly went to the home on a tip from a contractor, Robert Lamar, who had done renovations on the house.
"It was disgusting how she left her sister,” Lamar said. “Someone that doesn't care about another human's life.”
But Defense Attorney Amy Housted argued that Lawson did the best she could, and that Churchill was only locked in at night so she wouldn’t wander the house, according to CBS News.
"When you are the sole provider, you obviously cannot give 24/7 care. And so, my client felt that it was necessary to make sure she didn't wander," Housted said. "She does admit that she did lock her in, but during the day Diana was free to go about the house, do anything she wanted in the house, eat whatever she wanted in the house. You know, she could go outside. In fact, my client tells me that they had to force her to go outside at times because she just did not want to."
Lawson is now facing 13 to 15 years in prison at her October 27 sentencing, though Housted told WNEM that she plans to appeal this decision.
Churchill is now in the care of the state, Lamar said.
[Image: Shiawassee County Sheriff’s Office]