Two Baltimore sisters, whose paraplegic mother died from neglect-related wounds shortly after being removed from their care, were sentenced to five years of probation Monday during an emotional three-hour hearing.
"I don't think the defendants need to be imprisoned to deter them from repeating the conduct," Baltimore Circuit Judge David Ross said, the two women sobbing before him. "I think they are genuinely grieving the loss of their mother and that grief is encouraged by the presence of guilt in these proceedings."
Tia Sewell, 27, and Sharon Jones, 26, had faced a maximum of six years in prison after pleading guilty in November to first-degree vulnerable adult abuse toward their mother, 40-year-old April Montford.
A medical team responding to a 911 call to her West Baltimore home Feb. 29, 2008, found her with maggots in her bedsores and lying in her own waste. She was in multisystem organ failure, and one of her bed sores was so deep that a doctor told prosecutors that he could push half his arm inside the wound.
Montford's case drew widespread outrage, mostly directed toward her daughters, who had taken over their mother's care more than two years earlier. Sewell had been trained by the state on how to look after Montford, and was paid to do so, seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Jones lived with her mother and served as backup.
And for two years, they appeared to do the job well. But something changed after Christmas 2007, when a still-mobile Montford cooked the family's holiday meal.
"At some point," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Kelly Burrell, "both daughters stopped caring."
Defense attorneys suggested that was because Montford told them to.
April Montford was a mother of two infant girls by the time she was 16. She was assaulted and shot a year later in 1985 on a Baltimore street and lost the use of her body from the waist down, along with much of her will. The girls went to their grandmother's, and Montford went to rehabilitation, before reclaiming her daughters.
Montford was willful and intensely private, her older brother testified. She never let him see her legs after the shooting, and she routinely refused to see doctors or go to the hospital. She missed her chance at her first and only vacation, a Bahamian cruise, after refusing treatment for a bleeding leg.
Sewell and Jones' lawyers - Thomas Chrisler and Myron Brown respectively - suggested Monday that Montford prevented her daughters from caring for her, that she didn't want their help anymore because she wanted to die.
Shaking, Jones stood to address the court. "I should have done more than I did, even if it meant her being mad and not talking to me," she said.
'My best friend'
"Never, ever would I do anything to intentionally harm her," said Sewell. "She was and is my best friend."
Burrell rejected the notion of suicide, pointing to Montford's wounds in photos blown up to poster size. One was so graphic that the court clerk had to look away.
"She did not intend" that, Burrell said. The daughters could have called for outside help if their mother was refusing treatment, she added. There was a nurse who visited monthly but was shut out after December 2007.
There were limitations to the defendants' responsibility, said Ross, who also required that the women seek counseling.
"We don't know whether taking further steps ... would have brought about a different result," he said.