A 68-year-old Simi Valley woman pleaded guilty Monday to felony elder abuse charges, nearly two years after her husband of more than 40 years was hospitalized with severe bedsores and dehydration, prosecutors said.
Shirley Starkey faces up to seven years in state prison when sentenced Jan. 12.
Starkey changed her plea from not guilty to guilty on the eve of trial Monday and admitted in Ventura County Superior Court to causing great bodily injury to her 68-year-old husband, William. He has since died.
The plea brings an end to a case of neglect that horrified prosecutors and illustrated the difficulty seniors often face in trying to cope with the demanding physical and mental-health needs of their partners.
William Starkey suffered from Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases, and Shirley Starkey's lawyers raised concerns about her mental stability.
She was arrested in December 1998 after taking her husband to Simi Valley Hospital, where doctors said he was dehydrated, malnourished and suffering from severe bedsores.
Asked by police why she hadn't brought him in earlier, she replied that her husband "was quite cantankerous and didn't want to go to the hospital," according to previous court testimony.
At a preliminary hearing in April 1999, a detective testified that when she confronted Starkey about her husband's injuries, she answered that the wounds were "just bedsores, and he did it to himself."
Starkey had been arrested months earlier on similar abuse charges.
Authorities said she refused to help her husband get back into bed after he fell to the floor in June 1997 and lay there for hours in his own waste.
In that case, she pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor elder abuse charge, served a month in jail and was placed on three years' probation, the terms of which required her to get counseling and provide a safe, healthy living environment for her husband.
At the time of her second arrest, Starkey's lawyer said his client had struggled to care for an ailing husband whose physical and mental problems had been taxing.
Starkey remains released from custody on her own recognizance.