Phoenix resident Gail Louise Olson will spend 30 days in jail and pay restitution for taking financial advantage of an elderly man she befriended for four years, a Jackson County judge decided Thursday.
Judge Lorenzo Mejia also prohibited Olson from serving as a caregiver for anyone outside her immediate family.
A jury found Olson guilty Thursday of first-degree criminal mistreatment toward the late John A. Becker of Phoenix, who gave Olson more than $110,000 in cash, signed over his car to her, and took out a life insurance policy naming her as beneficiary before he died in May 2012.
The verdict followed three days of often emotional testimony in court.
Olson was silent and often stoic during the trial, and denied the charges after her sentencing.
"I loved John a lot. He was my best friend. I only did things to help him because he asked me to. He loved me like a daughter," Olson said, visibly distressed and wringing her hands behind her back.
"I don't know what to say. I didn't do anything wrong. I'm sorry. I can't admit to something I didn't do."
In closing arguments, Jackson County Deputy District Attorney Laura Cromwell told jurors that Olson did not have to be deemed guilty of deliberately stealing from Becker, only of violating trust as his caregiver by profiting financially.
Cromwell, who apologized to jurors prior to closing arguments if she got "a little choked up" about the case, detailed how Olson's relationship with Becker evolved from reasonable payments for her time to $13,000 payments, $120,000 in life insurance, claim to Becker's car and an attempt to be deeded his Phoenix property.
Defense attorney Garren Pedemonte told jurors that Becker was of sound mind when he gifted the things he did to Olson, insisting she had committed no crime. Pedemonte said Olson "saved Becker's life" by bringing him out of a deep depression after the death of his wife.
"The family is in a position where they want closure, and they refuse to accept the possibility that maybe the relationship soured with their father because he was turning into a grouchy man. He got older, got mean," Pedemonte said.
"For them, that's not OK, and they've got to have somebody here to make it their fault to make them feel better. And I know where they're coming from, but it doesn't make it a crime."
Both Pedemonte and Cromwell referenced a November 2011 agreement allowing Olson to receive the car and life insurance and to maintain her relationship with Becker.
"The family was OK with contact so long as the rest of it was protected," Pedemonte said. Cromwell, however, said Olson's behavior became criminal when she took increasing control over Becker, making medical decisions, isolating him from family and benefiting in ways even Becker didn't know about.
As the 92-year-old was dying of cancer, recovering from a broken hip in a rehab facility in early 2012, witnesses testified, Olson continued to request money, interfered with Becker's medical care and demanded keys to Becker's car. Police provided evidence she had posted the car on Craigslist for sale.
Laying claim to Becker's wallet while he was hospitalized, said Phoenix police investigating officer Janet Bailey, was her ultimate undoing.
"Basically, Gail was keeping his wallet and was refusing to return it to him even after Mr. Becker, himself, asked her for it. She was harassing the family relentlessly about this car," Bailey said.
With a search warrant in hand, Bailey recovered the wallet in addition to $8,000 in cash, two new desktop computers, two large-screen TVs, two iPads, silver coins similar to some $55,000 worth of coins taken from a safe at Becker's home, a new $25,000 Toyota Prius and 15 pounds of marijuana.
Bailey testified that Olson and her husband, Doug Olson, who faced drug charges, only receive Social Security income and public assistance, which would not allow the lavish way in which they were living.
"What blew this case open was her insistence that she was holding on to this wallet hoping to get this car that she felt so entitled to," Bailey said.
"Her cash cow was in the hospital, and she couldn't get to him, so that was her only control."
Waiving her right to delay sentencing, Olson, with consideration for an existing probation sentence for her drug charges, was sentenced to 30 days in jail and three years of probation and ordered not to serve as caregiver for anyone outside her immediate family.
Becker's children, John B. Becker and Sandy Becker-Hanson, both spoke through tears after the verdict was read. They said Olson's actions caused a rift in the family when members became suspicious of her, but their father refused to believe their concerns.
Becker-Hanson said she found some comfort in the fact that her father seemed to understand what had happened in his final days.
"Things were so stressful, and he was so angry for the last six to eight months, but the day he died, he had been asking for me," she said, wiping her eyes.
"I came back on Sunday, and he opened his eyes and he looked at me and he reached out and grabbed my hand and he would not let go, so I knew that he knew I was there and that he loved me. ... With everything we went through as a family, with the anger with Dad and the distrust, none of it was ever there until Gail came into his life."
John B. Becker spoke of regret for the time he was estranged from his father. During his testimony, Becker said the small amount of life insurance that Olson continued to try to claim was not the family's focus.
"Unlike my sister, I don't think my dad ever did forgive me, which I guess I'll live with the rest of my life," he said. "But I'm not really a vindictive person, and I don't want to see any harsh judgment really come to Gail other than I would not want to see her profit any more from what she's done.
"I also hope there's some way that she can be prevented from being a caregiver to another elderly person in the future, because what she did was obviously on purpose. And she may deny it, but I was there, and I lost the last three years of a good relationship with a father who I've been close with for 60 years."
Olson's restitution will be set during a future hearing. The jury acquitted her on a second charge of first-degree criminal mistreatment. She must report to jail at 9 a.m. on July 8.
Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.