The former live-in manager of a South-Central Los Angeles home for the mentally retarded Wednesday received the maximum four-year state prison sentence in the death of a patient whose decomposed body was found in a closet that had been nailed shut.
Rudolph Harris, 44, pleaded guilty last month to involuntary manslaughter in the death of Ray Walker, 31, a patient at Heaven's Crest Board and Care Home.
Harris was arrested in Las Vegas last November, about six weeks after Walker's body was found. An off-duty Los Angeles police officer at the Circus Circus hotel-casino noticed the fugitive pumping change into a slot machine and notified security guards.
Authorities had initially filed murder charges against Harris, who worked at the home for two years. But a plea bargain was struck because Walker's body was too decomposed for the coroner to determine whether Harris had physically abused him before his death, the prosecutor, Deputy Dist. Atty. Lee Harris, said.
In setting the maximum prison term, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Burke followed the recommendations of the county Probation Department and the state Assn. for Retarded Citizens.
"The fact that Mr. Walker was a profoundly mentally retarded person without the ability to communicate to others his vicious treatment makes this a particularly reprehensible act," Theodore E. Johnson, director of the association, wrote the court.
Evidence showed that Walker became ill last September, and Harris subsequently hid him in a closet when an inspector was visiting the facility. Days later, after the victim had died, Harris placed him back in the closet, nailed the door shut and fled.
Harris told authorities that Walker may have been hit on the head by another patient before his condition deteriorated.
Prosecutor Harris said other evidence indicated that the defendant may have abused Walker.
In a hand-scrawled letter to the judge, Harris, who has no prior criminal record, wrote that he panicked after finding Walker dead.
"I was so scared and afraid I didn't no (sic) what to do, I placed him in the closet . . . I acted wrong because I just was afraid to tell someone," he wrote.