A former employee of an upscale retirement home accused of physically assaulting four vulnerable residents was convicted Thursday of torture and elder abuse.
Jurors deliberated about five hours before finding Cesar Ulloa guilty of all eight counts against him. As the verdict was read, the 21-year-old Reseda resident stared straight ahead without showing any emotion.
Ulloa, who had a bruise on his right eye that he said was the result of being attacked by half a dozen inmates in jail over the weekend, faces up to life in prison when he is sentenced in May.
According to witnesses, Ulloa, a low-level employee, often laughed as he viciously attacked residents. Several of his victims were too dementia-ridden to call for help, prosecutors alleged.
In one case, a fellow caregiver said she saw Ulloa jump on a mute 78-year-old woman's chest, body-slamming her into a bed when she struggled. Another employee said she saw Ulloa leap off a dresser and land with both knees on an elderly man's abdomen. He was also accused of using one wheelchair-using resident's arm to hit another resident suffering from dementia, encouraging the two to fight.
The widow of one of the victims sobbed throughout the proceedings.
"My husband can now rest in peace," said Rita Kittower, 86. "And I can live in peace."
Suspicion about Ulloa was spurred after Kittower received an anonymous phone call the day after the funeral of her husband, Elmore, alerting her that he had been abused and that his death may not have been from natural causes, as the family had believed.
Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies exhumed the former engineer's body days later. Trauma was found, with signs of multiple broken bones at various stages of healing. An autopsy showed blunt force trauma as a contributing factor in his death.
More than two dozen breaks were found around Elmore Kittower's ribs. A radiologist at the trial compared the injuries to those of a person hit by a train.
An investigation into Ulloa found other alleged victims.
Rita Kittower's testimony about her husband of almost 50 years brought jurors to tears. After the verdict was announced, she tearfully embraced the families of other victims. Even the court reporter broke down as she said goodbye to the widow.
"Some justice has been served," said one victim's relative.
"You bet," responded Kittower.
Ulloa's relatives, sitting in the back of the courtroom, were silent throughout the proceedings and declined to comment afterward.
The abuse was particularly shocking because of where it occurred. Silverado Senior Living in Calabasas is considered an elite retirement home, where relatives pay upward of $70,000 a year to house their loved ones.
But the prosecutor said the home was vulnerable to abuse. The caregivers there, she said, generally take the floor with little more than a high school education and just a few days of training. Cameras that could have deterred abuse were installed in the halls but not in residents' rooms, where caregivers bathed and changed residents.
Silverado officials have denied any wrongdoing as an organization and said they are committed to providing a safe environment for their residents. As for the allegations against Ulloa, Loren Shook, president and chief executive of Silverado, said he respected the jury's decision. "We don't know all the facts, and we recognize that we don't and consequently we respect the judicial process," he said.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Robin Allen called the verdict just.
The truth "already went to the grave with Mr. Kittower, but we were able to bring those facts up from the grave," she said.
Ulloa's attorney had argued the allegations were made up by veteran staffers jealous of Ulloa's rapid success. Just three months after being hired, he was named employee of the month.