Woman sentenced in roommate's death

She get 21 months for refusing to call 911 during diabetic episode

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

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A 62-year-old woman was sentenced to prison Thursday in the death of her roommate.

Karin M. Depee pleaded guilty to second-degree manslaughter, acknowledging that it was her criminal negligence that caused last year's death of Rachelle Law, 39. The two were roommates, and Depee refused to call 911 for Law, who had Type 2 diabetes.

When Law eventually arrived at the hospital, she had diabetic ketoacidosis and was unresponsive.

Law, who was developmentally disabled, met Depee through the Special Olympics. Depee has an IQ of 64 and had been receiving Social Security disability payments.

Clark County Superior Court Judge Daniel Stahnke rejected a joint recommendation from Deputy Prosecutor Scott Ikata and defense attorney Jeff Barrar to sentence Depee to one year and a day -- the minimum sentence it takes to transfer an inmate out of the Clark County Jail and into the state prison system.

"I'm not comfortable with that," Stahnke said.

Barrar said Depee's failure to call 911 reflected her low IQ. He gave the judge a report from Vancouver psychologist Kirk Johnson, who estimated Depee functioned at best at the level of a sixth-grader.

"Given her level of functioning and the stress involved, she didn't react like you'd expect a normal person to react," Barrar said. "Because she's not normal." Barrar said Depee was not capable of being anyone's caregiver.

Ikata said he signed off on the recommendation because he felt it was an appropriate resolution.

The standard range for Depee, who had no criminal history, was 21 to 27 months.

Stahnke sentenced her to 21 months, saying there was no reason to go below the range.

Depee had previously been paid to remind Law to take her medication, but she was not being paid to be a caregiver at the time of Law's death, Barrar said. The attorney said Depee had represented to Law's mother, who lives in Vernonia, Ore., that she could care for Law.

Law's mother, Gail Law, has adopted her two grandchildren, who'd been living with her before her daughter's death because her daughter was unable to care for them. Gail Law brought her 10-year-old granddaughter and 6-year-old grandson, who is developmentally disabled, to court Thursday. Gail Law previously said she didn't want her daughter to live with Depee, but there was nothing she could do about it because her daughter was an adult.

Addressing Stahnke, Gail Law said she had spoken with Depee a few days before her daughter was hospitalized. Depee had called to say Law had been throwing up. Gail Law said she told Depee that her daughter needed fluids every 20 minutes or else she'd dehydrate, and told Depee to call 911 if necessary.

"She assured me she had it under control," Law said.

Later, Depee called to say Law had collapsed. Gail Law said she told Depee to call 911, but Depee refused because Law wasn't on her lease and she didn't want to be evicted. Gail Law called police, who arranged for an ambulance to be sent to the residence.

When Law was admitted to Southwest Washington Medical Center, her blood glucose level was 597; a normal level would be between 70 and 110. Law also had a critically low pH level and low level of potassium, according to court documents. The official cause of death was pneumonia, but Clark County Medical Examiner Dennis Wickham ruled Law's death a homicide based on the deliberate act of not providing medical treatment.

Even children, Stahnke said, recognize the risks of not seeking medical help when someone becomes critically ill and know how to call 911.

"I'm not convinced that you didn't recognize the risks," Stahnke told Depee.

Depee will receive credit for the 175 days she has spent in jail.

Stephanie Rice: 360-735-4508 or stephanie.rice@columbian.com.