Jury finds woman guilty of manslaughter for mother's death

Lauren Looney (Source: East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Office)
Lauren Looney (Source: East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Office)

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A jury found a woman guilty in the 2014 death of her elderly mother.

The jury found Joleslie Looney, 56, of Baton Rouge, guilty of manslaughter. Her sentencing hearing has been scheduled for April 10, 2018.

Judge Mike Erwin presided over the trial.

Looney was found guilty of manslaughter of her mother, Bessie Looney, 82, who was found dead in September of 2014 in what investigators described as "horrid conditions."

East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner Dr. William Clark said Bessie Looney died from a blood infection caused by untreated bed sores.

Court began Thursday morning with an emotional 911 call played for a jury made up of 11 women and one man. The caller was the defendant, Joleslie Looney. In the audiotape, she could be heard saying, "My mother is dead." That audio was followed by gruesome images of the victim's body that showed her injuries.

The state then called Dr. Clark to the stand as an expert witness in Emergency Medicine. Clark stated that while he didn't conduct the autopsy, he is the final decision maker in the cause and manner of death based on the results. The autopsy was conducted by the deputy coroner, who is a forensic pathologist.

Clark said the autopsy revealed the victim was malnourished and considered emaciated, weighing only 82 pounds with a body mass index of 13.6. It was revealed in court the victim suffered from several illnesses, including vascular dementia, osteoporosis, and high blood pressure. The coroner testified that toxicology results tested negative for any drugs in the victim's system, indicating she wasn't being treated. Clark said she was also dehydrated.

Despite those issues, Clark ruled Looney's death as a homicide. He said the cause of death was septic shock due to infected pressure sores. Septic shock can cause the body to slowly shut down. Clark said the victim had an overwhelming bacterial infection in the sores on her hips, arms, and feet. He said the bacteria found in her sores are most commonly found in the gastrointestinal tract.

Clark said pressure sores form when someone is immobile and in the same position for long periods of time.

Perhaps the most shocking part of Clark's testimony was that septic shock is treatable if caught in time. He said if the victim had been treated by a physician, she could have possibly lived.

The defense also called two witnesses to testify on behalf of Joleslie Looney. Both witnesses stated they had known the defendant for several years, describing her as someone who cared deeply for her mother. One witness testified that her close friendship with the defendant formed when both were employees for the City of Baton Rouge. The witnesses testified that Looney, at the time, was a "loyal employee," and single mother who was just a "regular, ordinary person trying to make a life for her child."

The second witness stated she knew the elderly victim as well as the defendant. She said the last time she saw the victim, around March of 2014, she was using a walker and seemed a little weak, but was coherent.

Both witnesses said the defendant was dealing with a lot of stress from work and would enter a state of depression when she took on a task she couldn't handle. When asked by the state why the defendant might not have asked for help to care for her ailing mother, one witness stated she "had a problem asking for help."

The victim's granddaughter, Lauren Looney, 21, is also charged with manslaughter. Her bench trial before Erwin is scheduled to begin on March 19.

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