Friday, January 23, 2015
Guilty verdict handed down in trial
Daryl Enos Strang was arrested in late April 2014 on suspicion of abusing and exploiting 84-year-old Superior resident Ben Poat, according to Mineral County District Court documents filed by Mineral County Attorney Marcia Boris. Strang pleaded not guilty to the two felony counts but was convicted by a jury that deliberated for a little over two hours before returning with a unanimous verdict.
Boris said she was satisfied with the verdict. She said the jury’s decision sends a clear message about the treatment of the elderly in Mineral County and hopefully indicates what could happen if more cases are uncovered.
“I think the reported cases of elder abuse and exploitation are only the tip of the iceberg,” Boris said.
“I am certain we don’t know the full extent of the elder abuse and exploitation that is actually occurring -- many times it goes unreported and undetected and often these cases are really difficult to prosecute. I hope this case serves to raise awareness in our area about the problem of elder abuse and exploitation and sends the message that those individuals who take advantage of and victimize our elderly population will be held accountable.”
According to the prosecution and testimony from the defendant himself, Strang met Poat in 2007 and began to occasionally help him out with taking care of his affairs on his property. Strang testified he visited Poat sometimes once a month or more to check on him and would also visit when Poat’s family were unable to contact him to make sure he was well.
In October 2013, Poat was diagnosed with severe dementia which was determined after a psychological assessment according to court documents.
After a report of suspected elder abuse in September 2013, a social worker from the Montana Department of Health and Human Services Adult Protective Services Division visited Poat at his home and discovered he was suffering from untreated melanomas on his back and face. Poat was reportedly also living off of milk and peanut butter and his beloved animals were living in squalor and suffering severe health issues.
According to information disclosed during the trial, Strang obtained power of attorney over Poat’s property and assets including access to his bank accounts. Wells Fargo Bank records show that Poat’s account had $108,065 on Jan. 31, 2013, $98,836 on March 31 and $36,811 as of Aug. 31.
Shortly after the caseworker discovered the conditions Poat was living in, Poat’s sister contacted the Mineral County Sheriff’s Office and reported her belief that Strang was to blame for the neglect. She also reported she believed Strang exploited Poat to gain possession of vehicles, property and other personal belongings including Poat’s prized Harley-Davidson motorcycle.
At an October hearing, Attorney Lance Jasper was appointed to be Poat’s guardian by District Judge Ed McLean and the Western Montana chapter for the Prevention of Elder Abuse was appointed Poat’s conservator to manage what assets he had left.
According to information disclosed during the trial, Strang told Sanders County Detective Doug Dryden that he was aware Poat was experiencing health issues but that Poat was fully aware he was granting Strang power of attorney and what that meant concerning oversight of his property and other assets.
After three days of testimony that included several character witnesses that testified Strang had a very positive reputation in the Thompson Falls community and was active with his local church, the trial ended with closing arguments from the defense and the prosecution.
A member of the viewing public was ordered to leave the courtroom after shouting at Boris during her closing. The case was sent to the jury and after nearly two hours of deliberation, they unanimously convicted Strang on both charges. Boris said the jury of Strang’s peers arrived at the proper verdict.
“I think the jury came to exactly the right decision, Boris said. “Justice was served. This was a fairly complex case and there was a lot of information provided to the jury over the course of the trial. They had the toughest job of anyone involved -- determining what the facts are and applying the law to those facts and making a determination of guilt or innocence -- and they performed their duty admirably.”
Boris said this was not the first case of elder abuse she has tried in the past. She said she had hoped Poat would live to see the outcome of the trial but unfortunately, he passed away before the proceedings commenced.
“This case is the second case I’ve taken to trial that involved the financial exploitation of older people,” Boris said. “The first was an embezzlement case in which the defendant targeted mostly elderly victims. Each case I prosecute is different and is heartbreaking in its own way. It is unfortunate that he (Poat) passed away prior to the conclusion of the criminal case and didn’t get to live to see justice done.”
According to Boris, much of the credit for uncovering the exploitation was due to the efforts of Poat’s guardian, Lance Jasper. She said it was through Jasper that assets were recovered and Poat was able to live out the rest of his life at home which he expressed on multiple occasions was his wish.
“It was really through the efforts of Mr. Poat’s guardian, Lance Jasper, that the full extent of the financial exploitation came to light,” Boris said. “There was relatively little in the way of resources available by the time Mr. Strang’s actions came to light and Mr. Jasper worked tirelessly to recover a great deal of the property which had been taken from Mr. Poat, and to ensure that there were sufficient resources that Mr. Poat was ultimately able to stay in his home until the end of his life, as he wanted to do.”
Strang will be sentenced on March 9. Attempts to contact Strang’s attorney for a statement went unanswered.
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Guilty verdict handed down in trial