During the long months of testimony in the Astor trial, as the courtroom emptied of spectators and the headlines shrunk, prosecutors and other professionals involved in elder abuse cases were still paying close attention. In fact, some were biting their fingernails, especially as the jury’s deliberations grew heated and stretched to 12 days.
“I’ve been very worried about it,” confessed Lori Stiegel, senior attorney at the American Bar Association Commission on Law and Aging. If the prosecutors, including the head of the Manhattan District Attorney’s pioneering elder abuse unit, had failed to win a conviction, she said, “it could have been perceived as reinforcing the notion that these cases are just too difficult to bring and that juries will have trouble understanding the issues.”
Financial exploitation robs the elderly of an estimated $2.6 billion (PDF) each year, according to a study published earlier this year by the Metlife Mature Market Institute, Virginia Tech and the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse. Like all forms of elder abuse and neglect, the crime is believed to be substantially underreported.
And it’s particularly tough to prosecute. When adult protective services caseworkers suspect financial abuse and approach prosecutors, “they routinely get rebuffed,” Mr. Hafemeister said. “The prosecutors say they’re too difficult to try.”
“The percentage of these cases that occur within families is very high, about 90 percent,” said Joy Solomon, a former prosecutor, now director of the first shelter for elder abuse victims at the Hebrew Home in the Bronx. “You may have a victim who doesn’t want to involve the criminal justice system” in what’s seen as a family problem.
The Astor verdict, Ms. Solomon continued, is “a win for those of us in the criminal justice world trying to support prosecutions of these cases.”
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Abuse Experts Heartened by Astor Verdict
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