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Caregiver Won't be Charged with Stealing

18 July 2007

By Tracy Breton

PROVIDENCE - The attorney general's office announced yesterday that it will not bring criminal charges against a former part-time caregiver for the late Beatrice S. Demers, even though there was proof she had taken $128,000 from the former University of Rhode Island professor.

In an interview with The Providence Journal in late 2005, the caregiver, Alice Jane Barker, admitted her guilt and said, "I'm just sitting here waiting to be indicted." She said that she was sorry for what she had done and was willing to go to jail for it. "What I did was a terrible thing. I did a terrible, terrible thing. I will live with it for the rest of my life," she said.

But Michael J. Healey, spokesman for Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch, said yesterday that even though Demers' accountant had found that Barker "forged checks and had taken money from her totaling $128,000 between 2000 and 2002," prosecutors did not believe they could make "a sustainable case."

Demers, who spent her life teaching foreign languages, first to students in the Pawtucket public schools, then for 30 years at URI, died in March at age 100 at her home in South Kingstown. She was diagnosed with dementia several years ago and at the time of her death, had round-the-clock caregivers after years of living alone in squalid conditions with a raft of cats and a couple of dogs. During more than 50 years in the workforce, she accumulated more than $4 million, according to her former accountant, John A. Parmalee. Parmalee said it was Demers' desire to leave most of her fortune to the Rhode Island Foundation to support college students who want to study foreign languages. She also left bequests to several other charitable organizations and Brown University, he said.

Demers was the subject of a front-page Sunday Journal story in January 2006 about her care and the handling of her finances.

In 2005, the attorney general's Elder Abuse Unit began a criminal investigation into whether anyone had physically abused, mistreated or financially exploited Demers. Prosecutor Rogers S. Demers - no relation to Beatrice Demers - told South Kingstown Probate Judge Stephen R. White that he was looking into allegations of misconduct by two of Demers' former guardians as well as Barker.

Yesterday, Healey said of the case: "This is a long story and a sad story and at times an ugly story because of the greed involved. But sadness, ugliness and greed don't automatically add up to a sustainable criminal case," he said.

He said that after an "extensive review," there was no probable cause to charge the guardians. While prosecutors could have brought charges against Barker, he said, they elected not to do so because they felt they would not be able to secure a conviction.

Demers and Barker were friends and lived in the same neighborhood. When Barker's son went to the South Kingstown Police in December 2002 with evidence that his mother was stealing money from Demers, the police began a criminal investigation. But the police were stymied in their efforts to build a case, Healey said yesterday, because Demers did not want to press charges. Healey said that another complicating factor was that Demers' former student, lawyer Frederick C. Kilguss Jr., who was trustee of Demers' trust, had worked out a restitution plan with Barker in which she would repay Demers $86,000 in lieu of prosecution.

"We weren't aware of that at that time," Healey said. South Kingstown Detective Lt. Geoffrey Peckham told The Journal he tried to persuade Demers and Kilguss to press charges but was unsuccessful.

Asked yesterday how someone who was suffering from dementia could have made the decision not to prosecute, Healey said of Demers: "At that time, [she] was clearly exhibiting bizarre behavior and showing signs of self-neglect but we have no medical diagnosis she was incompetent at that time or incapable of making her own decisions."

Healey said that even if Demers was still alive, she would not have been competent to testify "and even if she was, she probably wouldn't have wanted to."

According to her divorce papers filed in Family Court in Washington County, Barker's relatives claimed that she suffered from a gambling addiction. She now lives in Florida.

Copyright 2007. Used with permission from The Providence Journal.

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