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Pa. man acquitted of involuntary manslaughter in death of man with Down syndrome

Defendant said he was trying to protect himself

February 14, 2012|By JENNIFER FITCH | waynesboro@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. — A Franklin County, Pa., jury on Tuesday acquitted a Chambersburg man in the September 2010 death of a 37-year-old man with Down syndrome.

The jury of eight men and four women delivered a not guilty verdict after an hour and 20 minutes of deliberation in the two-day trial.

Joseph Easton, 41, was charged with involuntary manslaughter.

Easton sat on Timothy Bradley Smith’s back while restraining him at a Guilford Township, Pa., assisted-living home operated by Person Directed Supports Inc. An autopsy concluded Smith died of traumatic asphyxiation.

Easton told police Smith lunged at him after lunch and the two men wrestled on the kitchen floor. Before Smith lunged, Easton said he had asked his client to shower after urinating and defecating in his pants.

When Easton took the stand Tuesday, he testified he was afraid of Smith’s violent outburst and had never been trained on how to restrain someone on the ground.

Easton said, “I certainly didn’t mean to do this. It was simply self-defense. I was trying to protect myself, him and Elizabeth” Camacho, another caregiver.

Prosecutors and the victim’s family disagreed with Easton’s claim that he remained on top of Smith out of fear. They said Smith was a foot shorter than Easton and weighed 75 pounds less.

“He died in a situation that didn’t have to be because of a poor reaction, an overreaction,” said David Rahauser, an assistant Franklin County district attorney.

Smith had the mental capacity of a 3- to 4-year-old, he said.

Some of Smith’s family members cried Tuesday morning when Rahauser demonstrated in court how he believes Smith flailed his arms, unable to verbalize that he was being suffocated.

Smith was pronounced dead at Chambersburg Hospital.

Easton entered the caregiving field in 1995 and started working for Person Directed Supports Inc. a year before the incident. He testified he trained in First Aid, CPR, and crisis prevention and intervention.

Defense attorney David Keller entered into evidence a psychologist’s report saying Smith suffered from hallucinations and delusions.

“Tim Smith is a major danger to himself and others. ... At the very least, two males should be monitoring him,” Dr. Stephen Overcash wrote on Sept. 8, 2010, the day before Smith died.

The jury asked Judge Douglas Herman for all evidence submitted during the trial to be delivered to the deliberations room for its use.

“I’m pleased with the verdict. ... It’s still a terrible tragedy that Tim Smith died, so you can’t be very happy because the man is still gone,” Keller said when asked for his reaction to the jury’s decision.

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