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'He was not acting out of cruelty'

Judge hands city musician three-month jail sentence for leaving elderly mother on floor to die

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 10/7/2018 (805 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A "devoted son" who left his elderly mother on the floor for three weeks until she died of complications from infected bedsores has been sentenced to three months in jail.

Ron Siwicki, 66, quietly thanked waving supporters Tuesday afternoon as officers led him out of a Winnipeg courtroom to be taken into custody. He's expected to serve about five weeks of his three-month sentence after being credited for time he spent in custody before he pleaded guilty to criminal negligence causing his mother's death.

Siwicki's 89-year-old mother, Elizabeth, died in December 2014, weeks after she fell out of bed and couldn't get up. Siwicki wasn't able to lift his mother and she didn't want him to call for medical help. He left her there, covered in her own feces and urine, until her sores developed and eventually caused fatal sepsis. He gave her daily nutritional supplement drinks and water, but didn't call 911 or try to clean her up until after she died.

"He played the role of a devoted son to everyone who knew him," said Court of Queen's Bench Justice Coleen Suche as she imposed the sentence Tuesday.

Ron Siwicki

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Ron Siwicki

"How this relationship of devotion could end with Mrs. Siwicki dying in such profane circumstances is hard to understand."

Siwicki, who was a guitarist for a local band at the time of his mother's death, was also described in court as a hoarder. He was assessed as having no mental illnesses. His friends and supporters, who wrote 27 letters to the judge, described him as a gentle, passive person who believed he was following the wishes of his mother, who had dementia and was known to be strong-willed and stubborn.

Ron Siwicki

Ron Siwicki

"He sees now that he was in no position to properly care for his mother, and regardless of what she said, his duty was to look after her," Suche said.

Siwicki's father and his older sister had both previously died, leaving him alone with his mother. Siwicki didn't know how to live on his own as an adult, Suche said in her decision, describing Siwicki as "overwhelmed" by the care his mother needed.

Crown prosecutors had asked for a nearly three-year prison sentence, while his defence lawyer asked the judge for a suspended sentence and probation, which would have avoided jail time.

"I am satisfied he was not acting out of cruelty, self-interest or lack of concern, but out of ignorance and a misplaced sense of loyalty or obedience. No doubt he was overwhelmed by his situation," Suche said.

His defence lawyer, Mike Cook, told reporters outside court three months was a "very fair sentence" and that his client had a difficult time in custody when he was initially arrested and blamed for his mother's death, but has been looking forward to the court proceedings coming to an end. At his sentencing hearing last month, Siwicki said he'll never forgive himself.

"He did what his mom wanted, as he had done his whole life," Cook said. "I think he was the most devoted son."

Elizabeth Siwicki seemed to be afraid that if she was taken to hospital she would never return, and she was previously angry with her son when he tried to bring in outside help or suggested home care, court heard.

The case should spark larger conversations about caregivers' duties to their aging relatives, even if they don't want medical care, Cook said.

"I think everybody who hears about this case will realize you have a legal obligation -- more than a moral obligation, you have a legal obligation to make sure your aging parent or your sick family member does get care."

Ian Cameron, another local musician who has known Siwicki for about six years, said Siwicki had never left home and didn't have autonomy -- something he's now grappling with as he copes with his mother's death.

"He was in a very vulnerable situation that he was asked to provide care that clearly he did not have the capacity to provide," Cameron said, describing Siwicki as a caring person with a "pure" heart.

"I think this should open up dialogue with all of us in all of our families with all of our elderly and aged (loved ones about) what end-of-life plan do we have in place? A lot of people don't want to have this very uncomfortable conversation because they think it's very morbid, but when that dialogue doesn't happen... then people are left vulnerable and alone and they don't think that there's any other option. And I think that both Ron and his mom didn't feel as though they had another option."

with files from Canadian Press

katie.may@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @thatkatiemay

Katie May

Katie May
Justice reporter

Katie May reports on courts, crime and justice for the Free Press.

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