Unlicensed caregiver pleads not guilty to manslaughter

Developmentally disabled roommate died while in her care

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

Published:

Updated: March 6, 2012, 4:54 PM

 

A Clark County woman pleaded not guilty Tuesday to first-degree manslaughter and first-degree criminal mistreatment in the death of her roommate.

According to charges filed by the prosecutor’s office, Karin M. Depee was an unlicensed caregiver paid to take care of Rachelle Law.

Law, who was developmentally disabled and had Type II diabetes, died June 23 at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center at age 39.

Clark County Medical Examiner Dennis Wickham ruled her death a homicide based on the deliberate act of not providing medical treatment. The official cause of death was pneumonia; when admitted to the hospital, Law had diabetic ketoacidosis and was unresponsive. 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.

While Law’s mother paid $600 a month to Depee to care for her daughter, defense attorney Jeff Barrar said Tuesday that Depee was not capable of being a caregiver because she’s developmentally disabled.

“She can neither read nor write,” Barrar told Superior Court Judge Dan Stahnke.

Trial was set for April 16.

Depee, 61, has no criminal history. She remains in the Clark County Jail on $100,000 bail.

Barrar asked Stahnke to either lower bail or simply put Depee on supervised release pending trial.

Depee, a widow, receives Social Security disability payments and has children and grandchildren, Barrar said, arguing that she’s not a flight risk and doesn’t pose a threat to the community.

Deputy Prosecutor Scott Ikata said Depee was arrested in Washington County, Ore., where she’d been living with friends because she’d been evicted from her Vancouver apartment. She did not waive extradition proceedings, Ikata said, so the county had to get a governor’s warrant to bring her back to Clark County.

Barrar said his client challenged the extradition process because she didn’t understand what was going on and her attorney in Oregon advised her to fight it.

She was simply exercising her rights, Barrar said. “She has limited skills to comprehend the (judicial) system.”

Stahnke denied the request to lower bail.

According to court documents, Law and Depee met each other through the Special Olympics, and Law wanted to move in with Depee. Law’s mother, Gail, who lives in Vernonia, Ore., told investigators that she did not want her daughter to move in with Depee; but since she was 39, she couldn’t do anything about it.

Gail Law said she paid Depee $600 a month to help with living expenses and said that while her daughter could test her blood glucose level, Depee was needed to interpret results and administer medications, including insulin shots, as needed.

Barrar said Tuesday that Depee could not have been expected to be a caregiver.

“This was a roommate situation, nothing more,” Barrar said.

Gail Law called 911 on June 21 after Depee, who had told Law that her daughter had been vomiting for a few days, refused to call for help. Depee said she did not want to call 911 because Law was not on her lease and she did not want to get in trouble with her landlord.

In addition to charges of manslaughter and criminal mistreatment, Ikata filed a vulnerable adult aggravator against Depee that says she should have known the victim was “particularly vulnerable.” In the event of a conviction, the aggravator allows a judge to go beyond the standard sentencing range for first-degree manslaughter, which is 78 to 102 months in prison.

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