A 98-year-old woman was indicted Friday on a second-degree murder charge that alleges she strangled her 100-year-old nursing home roommate after making the victim's life "a living hell" because she thought the woman was "taking over the room."
Laura Lundquist was sent to a state mental hospital for a competency evaluation before her arraignment. Her defense attorney, Carl Levin, said she has a "long-standing diagnosis of dementia, as well as issues of cognitive impairment."
She is believed to be the oldest murder defendant in state history, but might never go to trial because of her mental health issues.
Her roommate at the Brandon Woods nursing home in Dartmouth, Elizabeth Barrow, was found dead in her bed September 24 with a plastic bag tied around her head. Police initially speculated it was a suicide, but a medical examiner ruled it a homicide after an autopsy indicated strangulation.
Barrow's son, Scott Barrow, has said Lundquist complained to nursing home officials about the number of visitors his mother received. He also has said Lundquist had made "threatening" and "harassing" remarks to her. He declined to comment on the indictment, which was handed up Friday by a Bristol grand jury.
Bristol District Attorney Sam Sutter said Lundquist suffered from paranoia and "harbored hostility toward the victim" and thought Barrow "was taking over the room they shared."
Sutter said Barrow complained in the weeks before her death that Lundquist was making her life "a living hell." The night before Barrow was killed, she complained that Lundquist had placed a table at the foot of her bed to block her way to the bathroom.
Sutter said Lundquist then punched a nurse's aide who removed the table, which was again found next to the bed at the time Barrow's body was discovered.
Lundquist also told Barrow she would soon get her bed by the window because she would outlive her, Sutter said.
The two women had been roommates for about a year. Scott Barrow has said he asked nursing home officials to separate the women, but they assured him the two were getting along. He said his mother told him she did not want to leave her room because that's where she and her husband had lived for several years before he died in 2007.
A Superior Court judge, acting on a motion filed jointly by prosecutors and Levin, ordered Lundquist sent to Taunton State Hospital for an evaluation.
Sutter said the case likely won't ever go to trial because of the possible incompetency finding and because the defense will likely involve mental health issues, which take a long time to prosecute.
Levin said that if someone is found not competent to stand trial, the state would likely move for a civil commitment.
"Her family is very saddened for the loss of Ms. Barrow, and they are also very saddened by what's happened," Levin said. "Without acknowledging her responsibility, it's a sad event for both families. It just really points to the issue of mental health with the elderly."
Prosecutors pursued second-degree murder charges because they didn't believe Lundquist had the cognitive ability to form premeditation, which must be proven in a first-degree murder case, Sutter said.
Lundquist is believed to be the oldest murder defendant in state history, Sutter said.
"It is my intention to advance this case in a professional, ethical and humane manner," he said.
Sutter said prosecutors decided not to file charges against the nursing home, but did not elaborate.
Brandon Woods' chief of operations, Scott Picone, said the home was "deeply saddened by this tragic event, and our thoughts and prayers go out to both families." He declined to comment further.
In a statement, the home said the roommates acted like sisters, walked and ate lunch together daily and said, "Goodnight, I love you," to each other every night. The home said Barrow declined a room change in July and August.
The statement also said the home was establishing a scholarship in Barrow's name, and Scott Barrow was chair of the scholarship committee.