A former Long Beach nursing home employee who had been charged with second-degree murder in the death of a 74-year-old patient was convicted instead Friday of the misdemeanor offense of abusing a dependent adult.
Lito Aqui, 26, who could have received a 15-year prison sentence if convicted of the murder charge, will face a maximum jail sentence of six months when sentenced June 19 by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Henry P. Nelson.
Aqui's acquittal on the murder charge followed a three-week jury trial stemming from the 1984 death of patient Aubrey Fanning in the Hillcrest Convalescent Hospital.
Reiner Makes Charge
When Aqui was arrested last July, Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner charged that the certified nursing assistant had beaten Fanning on the head and shoulders in a confrontation stemming from the changing of the patient's soiled bedclothes.
Reiner also announced that the Los Angeles County Grand Jury was investigating the district attorney's allegations that nursing home personnel engaged in a possible cover-up "to prevent the truth from coming to light."
However, the grand jury was never asked by the district attorney's office to indict anyone, said Deputy Dist. Atty. Martin L. Herscovitz, who prosecuted Aqui.
"We were not able to uncover sufficient evidence to prove there was a cover-up," Herscovitz explained Friday. "But the verdict shows the jury believed that Aqui beat up Mr. Fanning."
Opt for Misdemeanor
Besides the murder count, Aqui had been charged with the felony offense of abusing a dependent adult. In their verdict, however, jurors voted instead to convict Aqui of a lesser misdemeanor offense.
Aqui's attorney, Joseph Shemaria, said he will appeal the verdict because the jury was not allowed to hear testimony that an elderly eyewitness to the incident had resided in a mental institution for a month in 1981.
Shemaria also criticized Reiner for having overstated the breadth of the case last year.
"Everybody will sleep better knowing those horror stories aren't true, at least at this hospital," Shemaria said.
James Zisman, president of the 154-bed facility, said Friday that his 124 employees "are very happy because they knew (Aqui) never was guilty (of murder). . . . The only one who thought he was was the district attorney."
Reiner, however, countered that he still strongly suspects that a cover-up occurred but "there's a difference between strongly suspecting something and having sufficient evidence to charge a crime."
Reiner also called Shemaria's comments "flippant," adding, "his client was convicted . . . of beating up with his fists an old man lying in a bed."
Spent 6 Months in Jail
Aqui, who spent six months in jail before making bail late last year, was initially arrested on suspicion of murder in February, 1985, but was released when the district attorney's office decided that it lacked evidence to prosecute. At the time, Aqui told police that he had held Fanning down when Fanning tried to hit a nursing assistant with a plastic urinal bottle.
Aqui was re-arrested last July after the eyewitness, Ellery McPhail, called authorities and said he had witnessed the incident. McPhail, who testified at the trial, said he did not come forward earlier because he feared for his safety while he was still living at the nursing home.