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Itasca nurse's aide might do less time if convicted of neglecting elderly
By Christy Gutowski | Daily Herald Staff

Heidi Leon

 

Sarah Wentworth

 

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Published: 6/23/2009 1:30 PM | Updated: 6/23/2009 5:48 PM

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A nurse's assistant faces considerably less time in prison if convicted of failing to provide proper care to an Itasca nursing home resident who died after wandering outside last winter into the cold.

Prosecutors agreed Tuesday to drop half of the eight felony counts against Heidi Leon, 24, of Bensenville, based on a perfunctory technicality with the wording of the state law regarding licensed nursing homes.

Leon faces five years - instead of 14 - if convicted of the remaining elderly neglect and obstructing justice charges.

DuPage Circuit Judge Peter J. Dockery set a Sept. 15 trial date. The defense team, Laura Mitacek and Neil Levine, said they anticipate a lengthy jury selection and trial due to the publicity surrounding the case.

Leon, who earlier pleaded not guilty, has remained in the DuPage County jail on a $99,999 bond since her March 4 arrest. She must post 10 percent to be set free.

Leon is accused of failing to check in on 89-year-old Sarah Wentworth early Feb. 5 after an alarm alerted staff at The Arbor of Itasca that an outside door had opened.

Police said Leon turned off the alarm and went back to watching back-to-back episodes of "Dog the Bounty Hunter." She also is charged with lying to police when they said she told them she saw Wentworth in her bed during a 3 a.m. well-being check.

Leon does not have a prior criminal history. If convicted, she must serve half the prison term before being paroled.

Wentworth, formerly of Chicago's West Side, was wearing an electronic ankle bracelet because she suffered from dementia and was prone to wandering. The staff found her body several hours later in the outside courtyard in near-freezing temperatures.

Her daughters have filed a wrongful-death lawsuit.

Also Tuesday, Judge Dockery granted Leon's lawyers and their investigators the authority to tour The Arbor so they could photograph, measure and otherwise document the nurse's station, television area, Wentworth's room and the hallway she traveled that leads to the outdoor courtyard. The Arbor fought the move, despite having earlier allowed civil attorneys for Wentworth's daughters to similarly document the facility.

"They can't close their doors to us," Levine argued. "It's crucial we be allowed to do this to provide the best possible defense."