A vulnerable man who could not take himself to the toilet and was allegedly left to die from infected sores untreated by his wife was often seen alone, one of his relatives told a jury.
Malia Li is on trial in the High Court at Auckland for the manslaughter of her husband, Lanitola Epenisa.
Epenisa died from a blood infection, sepsis, caused by infected sores all over his body some time on the night between October 1 and 2, 2016, at a relative’s house in Mangere.
He was sitting in his own encrusted faecal matter and a maggot pupae was found in his hip, the Crown said.
He died fused to the recliner chair where he spent his last days, his skin falling off as he was taken away by ambulance staff, Crown prosecutor Jasper Rhodes said.
The mother of two is accused of causing Epenisa’s death by failing to provide him with necessities as his legal carer, such as food, water, medical care and hygiene between January and October 2016.
A nest of mice and a bag of soiled clothes were found in the room which Epenisa, Li and their two twin daughters shared.
Earlier in 2016 the family had lived in a Tongan community-run house on Vine St in Māngere.
It was here a relative of Epenisa, Isileli Aholelei, said he saw Epenisa left alone more than once and he fed him.
“He was always in difficulty because he couldn’t stand up or do anything,” he told the courtroom through a translator.
“He was always sitting in the lounge.
“I didn’t ask him too many questions because I knew he was sick … part of his body was aching.”
Aholelei, 85, said he was asked by police to identify Epenisa when he died.
The Crown alleges Li’s level of care for her husband was “grossly negligent”.
But defence lawyer Mark Ryan said his expert witness claims the pressure sores were very recent, and Li did not fail to take reasonable steps to prevent the sores from developing or worsening.
“The deceased was a very, very unhealthy person,” Ryan told the jury.
“As soon as those pressure sores became infected, there was no defence mechanism in his body able to stop blood poisoning.”
Ryan said the case was “tragic” and urged the jury to focus its attention on the pressure sores.
Epenisa did not die of starvation, from lack of water but from sepsis caused by pressure sores, Ryan said.
Major health issues began for Epenisa when he suffered a stroke in September 2014 that forced him out of full-time work.
He was cared for at Middlemore Hospital for a month but suffered a second stroke in December 2014 shortly after being discharged, the jury heard in medical evidence read out by the Crown.
He was discharged a year later, in February 2016. He was capable of feeding himself at this point but required some assistance with showering and dressing.
The family moved out of their rental home in Hillsborough – which they could no longer afford without Epenisa’s income – and into a Tongan village community house on Vine St in Māngere.
Li and her daughter sought a prescription for Epenisa from the Māngere Family Doctors in May 2016, saying he was bedridden. Drugs lasting 28 days were prescribed.
Māngere Family Doctors attempted to make arrangements for a home visit for Epenisa but this never happened.
The family moved to a relative’s house in Māngere and this was where Epenisa died, sometime between 10pm and 1am on the night of October 1, 2016, from infected pressure wounds.
A level two NZQA national certificate in health and disability foundational skills obtained by Li in February 2014 was produced as evidence by the Crown.
The Crown alleges the qualification proves Li had some training and experience in caring for people in a similar position to Epenisa.
But when asked under cross-examination, the officer who arrested and charged Li, Detective Sargeant Timothy Martin, confirmed he was not provided with “information of her study material or exams”.
“The only evidence we have is the fact that between the period of June 2007 and February 2014 Ms Li achieved these credits,” said Ryan, to which Martin replied: “Yes”.
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