Geneva Sisters Found Guilty in Death of Mother

Josh Stockinger

Mary Virginia Barry had already arrived at death's door by the time her daughters called for help.

When paramedics arrived at the family's Geneva home on April 20, 2007, the 84-year-old weighed just 70 pounds and was covered in open bedsores and feces. Seven days later, she died.

On Thursday, Kane County Associate Judge Allen M. Anderson convicted Barry's daughters, 55-year-old Jill and 48-year-old Julie, of felony neglect of an elderly person for failing to provide adequate care in the final months of her life.

Anderson said the Barry sisters, as caregivers, knew or should have known from their mother's deteriorating condition that she was in dire need of medical attention, despite her insistence she be cared for at home.

"Mary Barry's physical state required that they treat her as a child and do what's necessary to maintain her care," he said. "They should not have missed these signs."

The Barrys, who face up to five years in prison or probation at sentencing Oct. 9, showed little reaction as the verdict was delivered. Their defense attorney, Gary Johnson, declined to comment outside of court.

Kane County State's Attorney John Barsanti, who prosecuted the case, said he hopes Thursday's verdict helps clarify an area of the law that is "lagging behind" in defining a person's legal responsibilities as a caregiver. Barsanti said that while he agreed with the judge's decision, it was "nothing to celebrate."

"What we have here is two generally law-abiding citizens, and a woman whose last few days weren't as comfortable as they should have been," he said. "We're not saying these women are monsters. They didn't want this to happen, but they let it happen."

Barsanti, who expects the sisters to appeal, said he has not settled on a sentencing recommendation; neither Barry has a previous criminal history.

The verdict followed a sporadic bench trial that took place from early April to mid-June in St. Charles.

Among the witnesses called by the state were paramedics and medical experts who testified about the elder Barry's soiled sheets, her rapid weight loss, the severity of her bedsores and ants seen crawling on her body.

Taking the stand in their own defense, the Barry sisters admitted they struggled to meet their mother's needs, but said they ultimately made a "good faith" effort.

Barry, whose health began deteriorating after a stroke in 2004 and who had a history of bladder cancer, died April 27, 2007, of pneumonia, which prosecutors said was aggravated by malnutrition and dehydration due to neglect.

In May, Anderson acquitted the sisters of one count each of a more serious neglect charge that required the state to prove their lack of care directly resulted in Mary Virgina Barry's death.