A grand jury has indicted a 98-year-old woman on a second-degree-murder charge for allegedly killing her 100-year-old roommate in a dispute over the room they shared at a nursing home in Dartmouth.
Elizabeth Barrow celebrated her 100th birthday on Aug. 21. (family photo)
Laura Lundquist, who prosecutors believe is the oldest person ever charged with murder in Massachusetts, has been charged with strangling Elizabeth Barrow in the Brandon Woods Nursing Home on Sept. 24.
"The investigation revealed that Ms. Lundquist harbored hostility towards Ms. Barrow because because she believed Ms. Barrow was taking over the room they shared at the nursing home," Bristol District Attorney C. Samuel Sutter said.
Lundquist was sent today to Taunton State Hospital for a competency evaluation prior to being arraigned. Defense attorney Carl S. Levin filed a joint motion today in Bristol Superior Court with prosecutors requesting the psychiatric evaluation for Lundquist. The motion says that Lundquist's medical records show she "has a long standing diagnosis of dementia and exhibited other erratic behaviors."
The evaluation could last up to 20 days and a court date has been set for Jan. 5.
"It is my expectation that she will be found not competent," Levin said this afternoon in a telephone interview from his office in Providence, R.I. "It's a very sad event," Levin said. "My client's family -- without acknowledging her responsibility for this act -- they feel great sadness for the family of Ms. Barrow."
In a news conference at his New Bedford office, Sutter said it was premature to say, but "I just think the odds are there will not be a trial in this case."
The victim's son, Scott Barrow, said in a telephone interview that he thought it would be absurd for prosecutors to try Lundquist.
"I don't see how you can prosecute a 98-year-old woman," Scott Barrow said. "It's like prosecuting a 2-year-old. But it's not for me to decide. The law has to take its course."
He added: "I don't feel vengeful at all. I feel pity for her."
The motion filed in Superior Court details the relationship between the two elderly women and describes, how just a short distance from a nurses' station, Lundquist was allegedly able to strangle and suffocate Barrow that morning within a window of 20 minutes. Staff found her body at 6:20 a.m. under a bed sheet with a plastic bag tied loosely around her head.
"The defendant made statements prior to the victim's death that she would get the victim's bed by the window because she was going to outlive her," the motion said.
The night before staff found Barrow dead, she complained that Lundquist has placed a table at the foot of her bed that blocked her path to the bathroom, according to joint motion. A nurse's aide moved the table and Lundquist punched her. When staff discovered Barrow's body, the table had been moved back to the foot of her bed.
Lundquist told police she was in the bathroom when Barrow died and heard her scream, but she claimed she did not do anything because she was afraid she would get in trouble. Lundquist also claimed Barrow had "hurt her" and described Barrow as a "sick woman," according to the joint motion.
Investigators initially thought that Barrow had committed suicide, but the results of an autopsy by the medical examiner found Barrow had been the victim of "asphyxia due to strangulation and suffocation."
Nursing home officials have said the two lived together for little more than a year.
"I am acutely aware of the difficulties of bringing a homicide case such as this. But in light of the evidence that this homicide was committed by Ms. Lundquist, my office was obligated to present all the evidence to the grand jury and ask them to vote on this indictment," Sutter said.
Sutter said prosecutors had asked the jury to indict on a second-degree, rather than first-degree murder charge, because it "would have been extremely difficult for [Lundquist] to form the necessary intent for first-degree murder." Sutter said prosecutors saw no basis to charge the nursing home with any crimes.
He said an increase in violence is a statewide and national problem and "one that in all likelihood is going to get worse."
Scott Barrow said he still doesn't know what could have motivated Lundquist. He added that she seemed to have all her mental faculties when he met her on visits to the nursing home.
"She seemed to be perfectly normal," he said. "She seemed lucid, and I had no idea she could be capable of such a thing. But you never know, I guess."
If Lundquist is tried and convicted, he said he would rather she was not incarcerated.
"It doesn't make any sense for her to do prison time," he said. "When you're that age, your faculties can come and go. You can be harmless in one moment and a psychopathic murderer in the next. I'm not a doctor, but the state has a difficult dilemma here. She's just a poor old lady who snapped."
Barrow has described his mother as healthy, amiable, and vigorous, a proud 5-foot-2 grandmother of three who was strong enough to walk on her own and read two books a week.
Aside from books, she loved to shop, chat with friends and staff at the nursing home, and eat the baked stuffed shrimp prepared with a recipe her husband of 65 years used to make for her before he died in 2007.
Barrow said today as much as he misses his mother, he does not seek vengeance.
"I feel very sorry her," Barrow said of Lundquist. "She's going through an ordeal of her own, whether or not she's competent to stand trial or not. It's going to be a terrible ordeal for her."
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