After almost six hours of testimony at a preliminary hearing Wednesday, Del Norte Superior Court Judge Darren McElfresh ruled there is probable cause to hold a Fort Dick woman over for trial on charges of neglect leading to the death of her disabled daughter.
Antonia Schappert will stand trial for charges related to the Jan. 17, 2017 death of daughter Samantha Schappert, then 28, who was unable to feed and care for herself and was confined to a wheelchair.
On the witness stand, Coroner’s Assistant Rachel Ochoa said when she arrived at the Schappert house the morning of Samantha’s death, some things caught her attention. She said the metal barrette in Samantha’s hair was rusty and her head contained mature lice and eggs, that her body was unwashed and dirty, and she had pressure sores on several extremities.
Ochoa said she was also disconcerted by how Antonia went from immediately wailing about her deceased daughter to speaking calmly.
Ochoa said Antonia reported that Samantha’s appetite had decreased in the previous few days and that she was fed “pureed food.”
Ochoa said that in looking for any evidence of “western medicine,” such as antibiotics prescribed by a certified doctor, she found only natural, over the counter remedies in the home. Ochoa said when she asked Antonia how the remedies were measured and administered, “she said she diluted them with water and listened for the resonating sounds.”
After asking for Ochoa’s experience and schooling, Defense Attorney George Mavris asked whether pressure sores are seen on patients in hospitals by patients who stay in one position for extended times. Ochoa confirmed that it does happen.
Under questioning by Mavris, she said there was adequate food in the house, that Samantha was wearing a clean diaper and clean clothes when found. Ochoa said the clean diaper at the time of death may indicate severe dehydration.
After almost 20 minutes of disclosing her extensive training and experience, Dr. Kelly Arthur-Kenny, the forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy, noted several things were immediately alarming.
In great detail over the next few hours, she described Samantha as being extremely emaciated, having extremely poor periodontal health, having feces on her hands and under her nails, pressure sores and “pinpoint hemorrhages” in several areas of her body, evidence of vitamin and nutrient deficiencies, a swollen brain, evidence of multiple infections in her lungs, evidence of food aspiration in the lungs, a sinus infection, and evidence of hypothermia, among other complex, microscopic issues.
She said the autopsy could not find that any indication of previous dental or medical procedures of any kind had been performed on Samantha.
When asked, Arthur-Kelly determined the cause of death to have been complications resulting years of malnutrition, among other complications.
Under questioning by Mavris, Arthur-Kelly said none of the particular illnesses Samantha suffered could have killed her, but the combination of the many present in her body could.
She said some scars and healed tissue indicated that such neglect had been happening for a long time, possibly years.
Arthur-Kelly repeatedly said that getting Samantha to a doctor earlier would have increased her chances of survival and created a better quality of life for her.
She said at the time of death, Samantha weighed 64 pounds and her body was too contorted to measure with a straight ruler.
Arthur-Kelly said in 30 years of forensic work and over 6,000 autopsies, this case was the most shocking to her. She said that had any doctor seen Samantha before her death they would agree she was in critical condition and would have been obligated to report the case to authorities.
Asked by Mavris if she equates a poor outcome to be neglect, Arthur-Kelly said neglect is evident when a person under the complete care of an adult has a treatable condition goes untreated.
Del Norte County District Attorney Investigator A.C. Field testified that during his investigation and issuance of a search warrant later, he found Antonia Schappert possessed several items of high value, including an expensive RV and more gold and silver coins than he could carry by himself. He also found her home was listed online for $789,000. Field and others helped her secure the valuables in another location.
When Mavris objected to the relevance of mentioning the valuables, Deputy District Attorney Todd Zocchi said the testimony was necessary to show that Antonia Schappert had the financial means to care for her daughter’s medical needs.
At just before 5 p.m., McElfresh listed the many conditions noted by Arthur-Kelly, saying there appears to be probable cause that severe neglect occurred.
McElfresh mentioned a photo presented of Samantha’s emaciated body on the autopsy table, saying she looked like a holocaust victim when she died.
Antonia was ordered to post $100,000 bail by Friday and return to court June 20 for arraignment in court and filing of charges.