He died fused to his chair: Neglectful wife jailed for more than five years

Author
Craig Kapitan, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 8 Dec 2021, 11:35AM
Malia Li's husband died from infected pressure sores, a jury heard at her manslaughter trial at the High Court in Auckland. (Photo / Michael Craig)
Malia Li's husband died from infected pressure sores, a jury heard at her manslaughter trial at the High Court in Auckland. (Photo / Michael Craig)

He died fused to his chair: Neglectful wife jailed for more than five years

Author
Craig Kapitan, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 8 Dec 2021, 11:35AM

A former health care worker whose husband died fused to a recliner chair with sores all over his body has been sentenced to five years and seven months in prison. 

Malia Li, 53, has been incarcerated since early July, when her trial ended. She returned to the High Court at Auckland on Wednesday - after her sentencing hearing was twice before delayed by Covid-19 lockdown restrictions. 

"Ms Li, this is a sad case," Justice Edwin Wylie told the mother-of-two as he announced the sentence for manslaughter. 

"There was a gross breach of trust involved in your offending," he added. 

"Your neglect of your husband started well prior to his death." 

Lanitola Epenisa died in October 2016 from the blood infection sepsis, after two strokes slowly ate away at his ability to walk and speak coherently and he developed pressure sores from immobility. 

He was found dead by emergency staff in a squalid Māngere home, drenched in urine in a room with a maggot-ridden bag of soiled clothes and a nest of mice. 

Li was convicted of failing to provide her husband - deemed a vulnerable adult - with the appropriate medical care, hygiene, food and water between January and October 2016. The Crown said her lack of care was "grossly negligent" and not a mild lapse or temporary moment of forgetfulness. 

Lanitola Epenisa died in October 2016 from sepsis. Photo / Supplied 

During a five-week trial that started in May, the jury heard from more than 30 witnesses - a slow process as each word was translated into Tongan. Friends and family spoke of how Epenisa was often found alone without food or water, and the room where he spent his final days had a stench so strong visitors could not breathe. 

His pressure sores were deep enough to see his muscle and bone and were infected with faecal matter, a pathologist said. 

Li, however, claimed her husband did not want healthcare workers to care for him, and he would yell and scream at her when she tried to help. Her lawyers argued her husband's sores developed quickly, and there was nothing Li could do for the "very, very sick" man. 

During Wednesday's hearing, defence lawyer Mark Ryan asked the judge for a 50 per cent discount off the starting point for his client's sentence due to her remorse. 

"She's going to have to live with the death of her husband and the father of their two daughters for the rest of her life," Ryan said, referring to the Crown's suggestion of a 5-10 per cent discount for remorse as "miserly". 

But prosecutor Jasper Rhodes said that she continues to insist, according to one pre-sentencing interview, that she didn't do anything criminally wrong and it is unfair she was in prison. 

Another report, however, described Li as "clearly ashamed" and regretful. Epenisa's insistence on not having outside help required his teen daughters to step in and help, causing shame for the family due to cultural taboos and further entrenching Li's refusal of help, the report stated. The judge agreed. 

"Poverty and over-crowding were undoubtedly contributing factors," Justice Wylie added. "The family at the time were impoverished." 

Li's own poor health at the time should also reduce her culpability, he said. 

"I accept this must have significantly compromised your ability to care for your husband," he said. "They would have had to your feeling of desperation and helplessness."