Indianapolis couple charged with neglect in death of paralyzed daughter

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John Kelley (left) and Lavonne Kelley (right)

By Marisa Kwiatkowski, IndyStar

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Feb. 18, 2015)– An Indianapolis couple are accused of neglect relating to the gruesome circumstances of their paralyzed daughter’s death, according to our partners at the IndyStar.

John Kelley, 51, and Lavonne Kelley, 40, each face a felony count of neglect of a dependent resulting in serious bodily injury, Marion Superior Court records show. They are accused of failing to seek proper medical treatment for their 18-year-old daughter, Linda.

Linda died Aug. 4 in a filthy, cluttered home with blackened bedsores covering much of her lower body. Some were so deep they exposed bone and organs.

The Marion County coroner’s office determined Linda’s cause of death was acute and chronic multifocal infections with decubitus ulcers, or bedsores, due to her bedridden state, due to paraplegia, due to congenital malformations, according to a coroner’s spokeswoman and court records. Poor hygiene was listed as a contributing factor.

Linda Kelley (Photo courtesy of IndyStar)

Linda Kelley (Photo courtesy of IndyStar)

Linda suffered from spina bifida, which is a permanently disabling birth defect that affects the spine. She was paralyzed from the waist down and also had a shunt in her brain.

During a court hearing in September, Marion Juvenile Court Judge Marilyn Moores called Linda’s death “the saddest, most disturbing case” of her career.

The young woman was wearing only a diaper at the time she died, according to court records.

The Kelleys’ house, in the 700 block of South Randolph Street, was littered with dog feces, cigarette butts, trash bags, soiled adult diapers, empty soft drink cans and other items. Bugs crawled on the refrigerator.

An Indiana Department of Child Services employee and Damar Services therapist and case manager had visited the Kelleys’ home only six days before Linda’s death, but no one reported her perilous condition.

That failure to protect Linda, who had entered the DCS system as a child and turned 18 shortly before her death, resulted in the firing of two DCS employees and a series of hearings. DCS officials also canceled the agency’s home services contract with Damar, citing “termination for endangering life, health or safety of any person,” DCS spokesman James Wide said.

Linda’s mother, Lavonne, told police that she noticed some broken skin and bruises on her daughter on Aug. 2, two days before the young woman’s death. But Lavonne Kelley said her daughter didn’t want to go to the hospital and wouldn’t allow the family to turn her, court records state.

Two days later, Linda was fading in and out of consciousness, according to court documents. Her parents put her on the floor of the kitchen and called 911.

John and Lavonne Kelley had a history of neglecting Linda’s needs, according to testimony during a court hearing last fall.

DCS determined the couple had neglected their children in 1997, 1998, 1999, 2012 and 2013, Moores said.

The 1999 case related to poor hygiene and medical neglect of Linda, who was 3 years old at the time. Moores did not discuss details of the other neglect determinations.

In December 2013, DCS determined that Linda’s parents had committed medical neglect again for failing to take Linda to all of her doctor appointments, including one for treatment of a sore on her leg. The agency also found the Kelleys’ home cluttered and infested with roaches and gnats.

DCS entered into an agreement with the family to resolve the problems. A judge approved that agreement.

The Kelleys were required to declutter and exterminate their home, re-enroll Linda in school and move her toward independence. John and Lavonne Kelley also had to meet Linda’s medical needs, including taking her to all of her doctor appointments.

About five months later, DCS filed a request to close the case, saying the family had “substantially complied” with the terms of their agreement. It closed in mid-July.

Teresa Carter, the DCS family case manager who handled the family’s case, said in court that she hadn’t wanted the case to be closed at that time.

She admitted she had taken Lavonne Kelley’s word on a number of things, including how the family was taking care of Linda, who weighed 260 pounds, without the assistance of a hoist or lift and why Linda wasn’t attending physical therapy.

Carter and her supervisor, Lyn Rupert, later were fired by DCS for failure to follow policy to ensure the safety of a child, state personnel records show.

Andrea Marsh, the attorney who represented the Kelleys in the 2013 case, said it is not uncommon for a child with “serious, chronic medical conditions” to be the subject of multiple DCS reports. Marsh previously told The Indianapolis Star that Linda “had a lot of needs her parents worked hard to provide for.”

John and Lavonne Kelley are being held in the Marion County Jail without an opportunity to post bond, according to jail records. A court hearing had not been scheduled as of Wednesday night.

This story originally ran on IndyStar.com.