Harold C. Shaver Jr. was sent to prison Friday because he failed to provide any care for four years for his 85-year-old mother, who spent 24 hours a day on a couch soaked with urine and feces, and whose body was covered in bedsores when she died nine days after emergency responders found her in her Lewiston home.
When he leaves prison, Shaver is likely to get something else: his mother’s estate, valued by his attorney Friday at $167,600.
That realization left Niagara County Judge Sara Sheldon Farkas flabbergasted.
“Is there any way on God’s green earth he can be prevented from getting that?” Farkas asked Friday while sending Shaver to prison for 16 months to four years, the maximum sentence for his felony guilty plea to second-degree endangering the welfare of a vulnerable elderly person.
The answer appears to be no.
Surrogate’s Court files show that in her 1974 will, Mary Shaver already had cut out a son, Michael, and left the estate to her other three children. In a 1976 will, Mary Shaver cut out a daughter, Catherine Long of Youngstown. And in the 1983 version, , daughter Michele Dorsey of Stuyvesant was cut out, leaving Harold Shaver with everything at his mother’s death, including the home in Lewiston, real estate in Allegany County and all her money and other property.
“This was a dysfunctional, fractured family for many years. There was very little contact between siblings,” Dorsey wrote in a letter to the court.
According to Shari Jo Reich, attorney for the estate, Harold Shaver’s sisters could challenge the 1983 will that makes him the sole heir. However, they would have to prove that if it weren’t for his treatment of their mother, she wouldn’t have died when she did.
The problem is that the autopsy discovered a previously unsuspected stomach tumor, which was listed on the death certificate as the cause of Mary Shaver’s death Oct. 30, 2011.
“[Harold Shaver] didn’t admit he killed her, and he didn’t. The cancer killed her,” Reich said.
The siblings, to prevent Harold Shaver from collecting the money, would have to prove otherwise. The same cancer finding was an obstacle to a homicide charge against him.
Reich said there was a $33,000 trust fund that Mary Shaver set up for her son, which should pass to him outside of probate. The remainder of the estate was valued at $130,000, and there was a $4,600 life insurance policy.
Assistant District Attorney Heather A. DeCastro said in court Friday that Harold Shaver was taking money from the estate even while his mother was in the hospital.
She showed the court photocopies of checks to “cash,” bearing Mary Shaver’s apparently forged signature, dated between Oct. 21 and 28, 2011, totaling $2,500. Mary Shaver was in the hospital from Oct. 21 until she died Oct. 30, 2011.
The prosecutor quoted an emergency medical technician who said that when he hoisted the woman off the rotten couch, “My fingers sank into the skin as if it were Jell-O or pudding. She was moaning in pain.”
Harold Shaver’s criminal attorney, Assistant Public Defender A. Joseph Catalano, called the photos of Mary Shaver’s sores “gruesome.”
He said Harold Shaver “has informed me his mother hated doctors. She didn’t want medical care. … His mother didn’t want visitors in the home, and he was doing what her wishes were. Should there have been something different done? I don’t know. I don’t know what her wishes were. He does.”
“I’m very sorry it’s come to this,” was all Harold Shaver told the judge.
“That’s it?” Farkas asked in surprise.
Michele Dorsey did not attend the sentencing but said in a letter to Farkas that her mother was “allegedly” injured in a fall in 2007 and couldn’t walk. Her brother Harold, whom she referred to in the letter as “Mr. Shaver,” was living with her, never married and hadn’t worked in two decades.
When Mary Shaver died, she had 8-by-10-inch bedsores on her back that went all the way to the bone, DeCastro said. There was so much urine and feces on the couch, that it, the carpet, the hardwood floor and the subfloor all had rotted.
When she finally was taken to Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center, doctors and nurses spent considerable time cleaning shreds of newspapers out of her wounds. Newspapers were her mattress.
Farkas said she couldn’t believe that Harold Shaver “genuinely thought it was his mother’s wish that she decompose on a couch while he took her money and went drinking … In my opinion, sir, you killed your mother, and you did it by way of torture.”
“No,” Harold Shaver said quietly.
“Yes, you tortured your mother to death,” Farkas shot back. “Wake up and smell the roses.”
DeCastro said Harold Shaver was a regular at a Lewiston bar.
DeCastro said the windows of the home were covered with heavy curtains, plastic and old newspapers to keep anyone from looking in to see the squalor. The heat and lights were usually off.
“This is how she lived while he took her money and went to bars and watched sports,” Dorsey wrote. “I truly believe he hoped he would come home one night and find that she had died and everything would be all right.”
She said as time went on, she found it impossible to reach her mother on the phone when Harold Shaver wasn’t home. She accused him of unplugging the phone when he went out to help keep his secret.
DeCastro said it was Dorsey who called authorities Oct. 21, 2011, after Harold Shaver refused to let her see her mother.
Dorsey’s letter said to Harold Shaver, “You told her she was a terrible mother and you hated her and she had ruined your life.”
Dorsey wrote that in the hospital, her mother “readily accepted medical help.” Her letter claimed that Mary Shaver “shook her fist at [Harold] … She died referring to Mr. Shaver [in vulgar terms].”