The family of an elderly woman who died at her nursing home says the questionable circumstances surrounding her death are "the stuff nightmares are made of." Prosecutors say Nita Lowery's caregiver killed her, and then tried to steal her money. And Friday in court, they tried to put Jodi LaClaire behind bars for decades on a charge that isn't usually connected with serious jail time.
LaClaire walked into Brattleboro District court Friday morning on her own accord to learn her fate.
The 37-year-old Bennington, N.H., woman has been out of jail since the trial in September when she was found guilty by a jury on seven counts of financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult.
"This is not a garden variety financial exploitation case," said Assistant Attorney General Matthew Levine, the lead prosecutor in the case.
LaClaire was acquitted by that same jury on second-degree murder charges in the death of the woman she tried to steal from, 83-year-old Nita Lowry.
"Only Jodi LaClaire was the one who could have done this," Levine said.
LaClaire was Lowry's caregiver at the Thompson House.
Prosecutors tried to argue LaClaire gave Lowry a fatal dose of insulin, and then attempted to use the woman's credit card to steal thousands of dollars while she lay helpless in a coma.
"She caused the death of Nita Lowry in connection of the perpetration and cover up of the financial exploitation charges," Levine said.
They asked the judge to sentence LaClaire to an unusually harsh 20-60 years in prison for the financial charges, in essence, the sentence typical of a second-degree murder charge for a crime that rarely ends in serious jail time.
"If the process is sound and if the trial is sound, then everyone should live with the results," said Daniel Sedon, LaClaire's lawyer.
The defense argued murder was already ruled out by the jury and that only the financial crimes should be punished.
"This notion that a person can be presumed innocent, remain innocent throughout the trial process, be acquitted of any illegal conduct by the jury and still be sentenced for it is not just," Sedon said.
In the end, Windham Superior Court Judge David Suntag sided with the defense.
"In this case, I think it's clear, certainly to the jury and to me, that the gaps were too broad to reach a conclusion that Ms. LaClaire was responsible for the death of another human being," Judge Suntag said.
He sentenced LaClaire to two years behind bars and three to eight more on probation.
Her lawyers say this finally brings closure.
"I'm going to go and help her get her paperwork so she can get on and move on with her life," said Richard Ammons, LaClaire's lawyer.
The victim's family says it doesn't bring justice.
Reporter Steve Bottari: As far as your family is concerned, was this enough time?
John Lowery/Nita Lowery's son: No, of course not. Everyone knows what happened. Thank you.
LaClaire left the hearing the same way she arrived-- on her own accord.
Now both sides are waiting for the Department of Corrections to determine exactly how many days Jodi LaClaire has already spent behind bars, because it looks pretty close to being time served or just a couple days she'll have to spend, and then she'll be out on probation.
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