Brush Prairie man found guilty in father’s death

Son convicted of manslaughter for letting him die of malnutrition

By Jessica Prokop, Columbian Courts Reporter

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A Brush Prairie man was found guilty Thursday of letting his 75-year-old father die of malnutrition and leaving the body to decompose as he continued to collect the dead man’s Social Security benefits.

Ronald Ahlquist, 47, was convicted following a two-week trial in Clark County Superior Court of first- and second-degree manslaughter, two counts of second-degree identity theft and one count of second-degree theft. All of the charges were domestic-violence related.

The jury, which deliberated for about four hours, additionally found aggravating factors on four of the five counts. The aggravating factors — based on the victim’s vulnerability and an egregious lack of remorse — will allow for a longer-than-normal sentence.

Ahlquist will be sentenced Feb. 23. It was unclear Thursday what his potential sentence will be.

“We appreciate the time and dedication that this jury gave to this case,” Senior Deputy Prosecutor Abbie Bartlett said after the verdict was read. “This was very difficult subject matter, and we were happy we could give justice to (the victim).”

Bartlett, who’s with the elder justice unit, argued that the victim, Norman Ahlquist, suffered from dementia and died from malnutrition in part from his disease and also neglect at the hands of his caregiver and son, Ronald Ahlquist. She also argued that he converted his father’s Social Security benefits to a debit card and spent the money on himself. He used it, before and after his father’s death, to purchase items such as alcohol and cigarettes, court documents show.

The elder man’s death was reported Oct. 7, 2013, by Ronald Ahlquist’s friend, Keith Runyon, who Ahlquist had called and requested help in transporting the body to the coroner’s office, according to a probable cause affidavit.

Law enforcement officers found Norman Ahlquist’s severely emaciated, decomposing body in the back of his son’s van. The man’s body was wrapped in a soiled sheet and hidden in a deflated air mattress, the affidavit said. Investigators estimated he had been dead possibly since late September 2013.

Ronald Ahlquist’s defense attorney, Tony Lowe, said at trial that the man died about three days before his death was reported.

Lowe argued that the elder man was never formally diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. He said he died as a result of his rapidly deteriorating health brought on by his age. The elder man had difficulty eating, he said, which is why he lost so much weight.

Norman Ahlquist weighed 85 pounds at the time of his autopsy, according to court records.

Lowe also argued that there was no evidence that Norman Ahlquist was physically abused or left to starve to death.

Ronald Ahlquist had been his father’s caretaker since 2009 and received money from the state for caring for his father between 2009 and 2010. The pay was discontinued when Ronald Ahlquist failed to take required training classes, court records show. Lowe declined to comment on the outcome of the trial.