Woman accused of locking disabled sister in closet found guilty - WNEM TV 5

Woman accused of locking disabled sister in closet found guilty

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SHIAWASSEE COUNTY, MI (WNEM) -

A woman accused of keeping her disabled adult sister locked in a closet for years with little food, water or clothing has been found guilty on all counts.

The story broke more than two years ago when police visited Candy Lawson’s home to check on the welfare of her sister.

Police said they discovered 42-year-old Dianna Churchill, who is deaf and had other "cognitive and physical impairments," had been locked in a small closet at a home on Oliver Street in Corunna. 

Prosecutors said she was forced to live in a 4x8 foot closet and was given very little food and water, and just a bucket for a bathroom. Investigators said Dianna was just over 70 pounds when she was found.

Police suspect it could have been going on for seven years.

Lawson was found guilty on one count of unlawful imprisonment, a count of vulnerable adult abuse in the first degree and embezzlement from a vulnerable adult more than $1,000 but less than $20,000.

"Feeling emotional and happy at the same time," said Robert Lamar.

Lamar said he was the one who found Dianna and called police.

"Horrible really. It was disgusting how she left her sister. Someone that doesn't care about another human's life," Lamar said.

In the third day of the trial, the prosecutors called Det. Sgt. Mark Pendergraff to the stand. Pendergraff was assigned to the case before he left for another job. He recalled bank statements examined in the investigation, as prosecutors tried to prove Lawson was taking her sister's social security money for herself as she remained locked away. 

"It defies all human decency. It does. You know, I think the easy answer for us is we think the motive was the benefits she was getting, the social security money that she was getting, and it's too bad that somebody can be on the radar with the SOS Administration that there is no protocol in place for actual face-to-face follow up, to figure out whether or not this person is alive. And well, and actually getting the benefit of their funds. In this case, obviously the system let this woman down," the chief assisting prosecutor said. 

However, the defense attorney for Lawson said the prosecutor's are painting the wrong image of her client. 

"When you are the sole provider, you obviously cannot give 24/7 care. And so, my client felt that it was necessary to make sure she didn't wander," Attorney Amy Housted said. "She does admit that she did lock her in, but during the day Diana was free to go about the house, do anything she wanted in the house, eat whatever she wanted in the house. You know, she could go outside. In fact, my client tells me that they had to force her to go outside at times because she just did not want to."

However, the prosecutor said the condition Dianna was found in speaks for itself. During a trial break, the prosecutor said the woman was so dirty that nurses had trouble cleaning her because the soap irritated her skin. 

It only took jurors a couple of hours to reach a verdict.

Prosecuting attorney Deana Finnegan believes it was the right decision.

"We feel great. This was two years coming. We are extremely satisfied," Finnegan said.

Lawson is facing 13 to 15 years in prison.

Housted said they plan to appeal.

"She really did try her best with the situation she was given," Housted said.

Lamar said Churchill is now in the care of the state and is doing much better. He said he has plans to visit her.

"If you got a loved one that needs to be taken care of, make sure you check on them," Lamar said.

Lawson is expected to be sentenced on Oct. 27.

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